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area handbook series 


a country study 


a country study 

Federal Research Division 
Library of Congress 
Edited by 
Thomas Collelo 
Research Completed 
April 1987 

On the cover: Ivory head of a prince from Ugarit, 
ca. 14th century B.C. 

Third Edition, 1988; First Printing, 1988. 

Copyright ©1988 United States Government as represented by 
the Secretary of the Army. All rights reserved. 

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Syria, a country study. 

(Area handbook series) (DA pam ; 550-47) 
Bibliography: p. 295. 
Includes index. 

1. Syria. I. Collelo, Thomas, 1948- . II. Library of Congress. 
Federal Research Division. III. Series: DA pam ; 550-47. 

DS93.S953 1988 956.91 '04 87-600488 

Headquarters, Department of the Army 
DA Pam 550-47 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 


This volume is one in a continuing series of books now being 
prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Con- 
gress under the Country Studies — Area Handbook Program. The 
last page of this book lists the other published studies. 

Most books in the series deal with a particular foreign country, 
describing and analyzing its political, economic, social, and national 
security systems and institutions, and examining the interrelation- 
ships of those systems and the ways they are shaped by cultural 
factors. Each study is written by a multidisciplinary team of social 
scientists. The authors seek to provide a basic understanding of 
the observed society, striving for a dynamic rather than a static 
portrayal. Particular attention is devoted to the people who make 
up the society, their origins, dominant beliefs and values, their com- 
mon interests and the issues on which they are divided, the nature 
and extent of their involvement with national institutions, and their 
attitudes toward each other and toward their social system and 
political order. 

The books represent the analysis of the authors and should not 
be construed as an expression of an official United States govern- 
ment position, policy, or decision. The authors have sought to 
adhere to accepted standards of scholarly objectivity. Corrections, 
additions, and suggestions for changes from readers will be wel- 
comed for use in future editions. 

Carol Migdalovitz 
Acting Chief 

Federal Research Division 
Library of Congress 
Washington, D.C. 20540 



The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of the fol- 
lowing individuals who wrote the 1978 edition of Syria: A Country 
Study: Larraine Newhouse Carter, "Historical Setting;" Richard 
F. Nyrop, "The Society and Its Environment;" Darrel R. Eglin, 
"The Economy;" R.S. Shinn, "Government and Politics;" and 
James D. Rudolph, "National Security." Their work provided the 
organization and structure of the present volume, as well as sub- 
stantial portions of the text. 

The authors are grateful to individuals in various government 
agencies and private institutions who gave of their time, research 
materials, and expertise to the production of this book. The authors 
also wish to thank members of the Federal Research Division staff 
who contributed directly to the preparation of the manuscript. These 
people include Helen C. Metz, the substantive reviewer of all the 
textual material; Richard F. Nyrop, who reviewed all drafts and 
served as liaison with the sponsoring agency; and Martha E. 
Hopkins, who edited the manuscript and managed production. Also 
involved in preparing the text were editorial assistants Barbara 
Edgerton, Monica Shimmin, and Izella Watson, Andrea Merrill, 
who performed the final prepublication editorial review, and 
Editorial Experts, which compiled the index. Diann Johnson, of 
the Library of Congress Composing Unit, prepared the camera- 
ready copy, under the supervision of Peggy Pixley. 

Invaluable graphics support was provided by David P. Cabitto, 
assisted by Sandra K. Cotugno and Kimberly A. Lord. Susan M. 
Lender reviewed the map drafts, and Harriet R. Blood prepared 
the final maps. Special thanks are owed to Paulette A. Marshall, 
who designed the cover artwork and the illustrations on the title 
page of each chapter. 

The authors would like to thank several individuals who provided 
research and operational support. Sisto M. Flores supplied infor- 
mation on ranks and insignia; Patricia A. Rigsbee assisted in 
obtaining economic data; Jonathan Tetzlaff was instrumental in 
the planning and selecting the word-processing system; and Stephen 
Cranton installed the equipment and trained the authors to use it. 

Finally, the authors acknowledge the generosity of the many 
individuals and public and private agencies who allowed their pho- 
tographs to be used in this study. We are indebted especially to 
those persons who contributed original work not previously pub- 




Foreword ill 

Acknowledgments v 

Preface xi 

Country Profile xiii 

Introduction xix 

Chapter 1. Historical Setting l 

Afaf Sabeh McGowan 



Umayyad Caliphate 10 

Succeeding Caliphates and Kingdoms 11 

Ottoman Empire 14 





Shishakli Dictatorship 28 

Radical Political Influence 28 

United Arab Republic 30 

Coups and Countercoups, 1961-70 31 

Neo-Baath Dominance, 1963-66 33 

The Baath Redirections of 1966 and 1970 37 


Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment 49 

Robert Scott Mason 


Land, Water, and Climate 54 

Population 58 

Density, Distribution, and Settlement 60 

Vital Statistics 60 


Arabs . 64 

Kurds 66 

Armenians 67 

Others 68 



Towns 74 

Villages 76 

Tribes 78 



Muslims 87 

Alawis 96 

Druzes 97 

Christians 98 

Other Minorities 100 



Chapter 3. The Economy 107 

Rhonda E. Boris 




Budget 118 

Revenues 120 

Expenditures 122 

Development Planning 123 


Water Resources 130 

Land Use . 134 

Land Reform 135 

Role of Government in Agriculture 137 

Cropping and Production 140 

Animal Products 143 

Agricultural Potential 145 


Energy and Natural Resources 147 

Electric Power 153 

Industrial Development Policy 156 


Imports 161 

Exports 162 






1986-90 180 


Chapter 4. Government and Politics 183 

Robert Scott Mason 



The President and the Cabinet 188 

The People's Council 191 

The Judiciary 191 

Local Administration 192 


Background 194 

The Baath Party Apparatus 201 

The Syrian Communist Party 204 

The Power Elite 205 

Post- 1982 Political Developments 209 


Attitudes Toward Politics, Political Parties, and 

Government 214 

Concepts of Nationalism, Unity, and the 

Arab Nation 216 

Attitudes Toward Foreign Ideologies and 

Systems 218 


Regional Foreign Relations 220 

Syrian-United States Relations 225 

Syrian-Soviet Relations 227 

Chapter 5. National Security 231 

Joshua Sinai 




Historical Background 235 

Development of the Syrian Military 236 

Syrian-Israeli Hostility 237 

Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, 1975-87 247 

Syrian-Iraqi Hostility 250 

Syrian-Palestinian Tensions 251 

Syrian-Jordanian Tensions 252 

Syrian-Turkish Tensions 253 


Ideologically Based Opposition Movements 254 

Ethnic and Religious Opposition Movements 255 



Size, Equipment, Command Structure, and 

Organization 257 

Manpower, Recruitment, and Conscription 260 

Military Training 261 

Conditions of Service, Morale, and 

Military Justice 262 

Uniforms and Rank Insignia 264 

Foreign Influences in the Development of the 

Armed Forces 264 

Special and Irregular Armed Forces 269 






Appendix. Tables 283 

Bibliography 295 

Glossary 317 

Index 321 

List of Figures 

1 Administrative Divisions, 1987 xviii 

2 Ancient Syria 5 

3 Umayyad Empire, A.D. 661-750 13 

4 Physical Features 55 

5 Age Distribution by Age and Sex, 1985 59 

6 Population Distribution, 1981 Census 61 

7 Distribution of Ethnic Groups 63 

8 Distribution of Growth and Structure of Gross Domestic 

Product, 1980-85 113 

9 Government Expenditures by Sector, 1985 123 

10 Land Use 134 

11 Economic Activity 148 

12 Transportation System 175 

13 Governmental System, 1987 189 

14 Disengagement Lines and Israeli Settlements 

on the Golan Heights, 1985 246 

15 Military Ranks and Insignia 265 



Like its predecessor, this study is an attempt to treat in a con- 
cise and objective manner the dominant social, political, economic, 
and military aspects of contemporary Syrian society. Sources of 
information included scholarly journals and monographs, official 
reports of governments and international organizations, foreign and 
domestic newspapers, and numerous periodicals. Relatively up- 
to-date economic data were available from official Syrian sources, 
but, in general, this information conflicted with that in other 
sources. Chapter bibliographies appear at the end of the book; brief 
comments on some of the more valuable sources suggested as pos- 
sible further reading appear at the end of each chapter. Measure- 
ments are given in the metric system; a conversion table is provided 
to assist those readers who are unfamiliar with metric measure- 
ments (see table 1, Appendix). A glossary is also included. 

The transliteration of Arabic words and phrases follows a modi- 
fied version of the system adopted by the United States Board on 
Geographic Names and the Permanent Committee on Geographic 
Names for British Official Use, known as the BGN/PCGN sys- 
tem. The modification is a significant one, however, in that diacriti- 
cal markings and hyphens have been omitted. Moreover, some 
geographical locations, such as the cities of Aleppo, Damascus, 
Horns, and Latakia, are so well known by those conventional names 
that their formal names — Halab, Dimashq, Hims, and Al Ladhi- 
qiyah, respectively, are not used, although the latter names are 
used for the provinces (see fig. 1). 


Country Profile 

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Formal Name: Syrian Arab Republic. 
Short Form: Syria. 
Term for Citizens: Syrians. 
Capital: Damascus. 


Size: About 185,180 square kilometers. 

Topography: Country consists of coastal zone divided by narrow 
double mountain range from large eastern region that includes vari- 
ous mountain ranges, large desert regions, and Euphrates River 


Population: Approximately 10.6 million in 1986, including about 
250,000 Palestinian refugees. Growth rate estimated at about 3.7 
percent per year, one of the world's highest. 


Education: Nearly full enrollment in compulsory tuition-free public 
schools at primary level. School system consists of six years of 
primary, three years of lower secondary, and three years of upper 
secondary education. Four major universities and various teacher- 
training and vocational institutes, all government owned and oper- 
ated. Adult literacy rate estimated at over 60 percent. 

Health: Gastrointestinal ailments, trachoma, and infectious dis- 
eases prevalent; considerable progress has been made in control 
of malaria. Severe shortage of medical and paramedical personnel. 

Languages: Official language, Arabic, mother tongue of about 90 
percent of population, understood by most others. Kurdish (Kir- 
manji), Armenian, Turkic, and Syriac spoken by minorities; French 
and English spoken by educated elites in major urban areas. 

Religion: Estimated 85 percent of population adheres to some form 
of Islam. About 13 to 15 percent of Muslims are Alawis (see Glos- 
sary); less than 1 percent, Shias (see Glossary); and remainder, 
Sunnis (see Glossary). About 10 percent of population observes 
some form of Christianity, and about 3 percent are Druzes (see 
Glossary). Small numbers of Jews, Yazidis, and others. 


Gross Domestic Product (GDP): LS75.1 billion (for value of the 
Syrian pound — see Glossary) in 1984 (LS7,600 per capita). Real 
growth rate of GDP 6.3 percent a year from 1953 to 1976, but aver- 
aged 9.7 percent a year throughout 1970s. Real growth peaked at 
10.2 percent in 1981 but declined sharply to 3.2 percent in 1982 
and -2.1 percent in 1984 as falling world oil prices, drought, and 
physical and financial constraints slowed economic growth. 

Agriculture: Historically most important source of employment. 
Agriculture's share of labor force declined from 53 percent in 1965 
to 30 percent in 1984 as service and commercial sectors dominated 
economy. Agriculture's contribution to GDP fell from 30 percent 
in 1963 to 17.7 percent in 1985. Irrigated area less than 10 percent 
of that cultivated. Sharp swings in production because of differ- 
ences in rainfall. Main products: cotton, wheat, and barley. Farm- 
ing primarily by private sector. 

Industry: Growth rate of industrial sector 8.3 percent between 1953 
and mid-1970s. Manufacturing (including extractive industries) 
contributed 22.4 percent of GDP in 1976 but fell to 13.4 in 1984. 
Crude oil production small by world standards but important to 
industrial growth and development. Discovery of high-quality oil 


at Dayr az Zawr in mid-1980s gives hope for economic recovery 
in 1990s. New emphasis on phosphate production in mid-1980s. 
Industry based on chemicals, cement, food processing, and tex- 
tiles. Most large-scale industry owned by state. 

Imports: LS16.2 billion in 1984. Public sector accounted for 79 
percent of imports in 1984. Major imports: oil, machinery, metal 
products, materials for processing, and foods. 

Exports: LS7.4 billion in 1984. Major exports: crude oil, cotton, 
and phosphates. 

Major Trade Areas: Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, Western 
Europe, Arab states, and Iran. 

Balance of Payments: Heavily dependent on foreign economic 
credits and grant aid from Arab states and Iran. 

Exchange Rates: Official (used generally for government imports) 
LS3.92 to US$1 in early 1987. Parallel (used for commercial deals, 
but gradually being replaced by tourist rate) LS5.40 to US$1. 
Tourist (previously available only to visitors, in 1987 applied to 
many commercial and diplomatic transactions) LS9.75 to US$1. 
"Neighboring country" (exchange rate of Syrian pound in Jorda- 
nian and Lebanese markets and inside Syria; also applied to pri- 
vate sector imports under barter trade agreements) LS21.50 to 
US$1 (August 1986). 

Transportation and Communications 

Roads: In 1985 over 25,000 kilometers of roads, 18,000 of which 
were paved. Main areas linked, but network required continuous 
and intensive development. 

Railroads: 2,013 kilometers in 1984. Standard gauge (1,686 kilo- 
meters) crossed northern part of country from coast to Iraq border 
in northeast (via Aleppo). Narrow gauge in southwest served 
Damascus with tracks into Lebanon and Jordan. 

Ports: Tartus most important — 8.8 million tons of cargo in 1984. 
Also served as country's crude oil export terminal. Latakia han- 
dled 1.7 million tons of cargo in 1984. Baniyas was oil port and 
site of large refinery. 

Pipelines: Two international crude-oil pipelines, one from Iraq 
and one from Saudi Arabia, both terminating in Lebanon. Domestic 
crude-oil pipeline from oil fields in northeast to port of Tartus via 
Horns (refinery). Three lines for petroleum products from Horns 
refinery to Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia. 


Communications: Good domestic and international telecommu- 
nications service. 

Government and Politics 

Government: Governmental system based on Permanent Con- 
stitution of March 13, 1973. Theoretically, power divided into 
executive, legislative, and judicial spheres, but all institutions over- 
shadowed by preeminence of president (reelected February 10, 
1985, in national referendum for seven-year term), who was head 
of state, chief executive, and secretary of ruling Baath (Arab Socialist 
Resurrection) Party. People's Council, 195-member parliament, 
popularly elected in 1986 for term of four years. Judiciary based 
on amalgam of Ottoman, French, and Islamic laws and practices. 
Some legal rights abrogated under state of martial law, in effect 
since 1963. 

Politics: Baath Party — popular name for ruling party — provided 
ideological rationale for Syrian socialism and pan-Arabism. Directed 
by twenty-one-member Regional Command (top national decision- 
making body of party) led by regional secretary. Party allied in 
coalition with minor parties (including communist) through frame- 
work of National Progressive Front. Dominant aspect of political 
system pivotal role of military as real source and guarantor of power. 
Disproportionately significant role played by country's largest 
minority, Alawis, who held many key positions in armed forces, 
Baath Party, and government. 

Administrative Divisions: Divided into thirteen provinces, each 
consisting of capital, districts, and subdistricts. 

Foreign Affairs: Arab-Israeli conflict remained paramount foreign 
policy concern, Syrian objective being to secure withdrawal of Israeli 
forces from the occupied territories, to restore sovereignty over 
Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, and to ensure full political self- 
determination for Palestinians. In attempting to resolve Arab-Israeli 
issue, Syria seeks unilateral strategic and military parity with Israel 
to negotiate from position of strength. Syria attempts to exert 
regional dominance over its Arab neighbors, focusing on Lebanon, 
which it has partially occupied since 1976. 

National Security 

Armed Forces: In 1985 army, 396,000 regulars (300,000 reserves); 
navy, 4,000 regulars (2,500 reserves); and air force, 100,000 regu- 
lars (37,500 reserves). Compulsory thirty-month conscription for 


Combat Units and Major Equipment: In 1985, army consisted 
of five armored divisions (with one independent armored brigade), 
three mechanized divisions, one infantry-special forces division, 
and ten airborne-special forces independent brigades; weapons 
included over 4,100 Soviet-built tanks and 95 surface-to-air mis- 
sile (SAM) batteries. Navy weapons included forty-one vessels, 
including two or three Soviet submarines and twenty-two missile 
attack craft. Air force weapons included 650 combat aircraft in 
9 fighter and 15 interceptor squadrons. 

Military Budget: In 1985 equivalent of US$4.2 billion. Approxi- 
mately 21.1 percent of GNP; 42 percent of government expendi- 
tures. In 1986 $3.7 billion for national security, including armed 
forces and internal security agencies. 

Police and Internal Security Agencies: Single national police force 
for routine duties. Numerous internal security forces under umbrella 
of National Security Directorate. Sizes unknown. 


Figure 1. Administrative Divisions 



FROM INDEPENDENCE in 1946 through the late 1960s, Syria 
stood out as a particularly unstable country in a geographic region 
noted for political instability. Illegal seizures of power seemed to 
be the rule as Syrians were governed under a series of constitu- 
tions and the nation's political direction made several abrupt ideo- 
logical lurches. Therefore, when Minister of Defense Hafiz al Assad 
assumed authority in yet another coup in November 1970, many 
believed his regime was merely one more in a long string of 
extralegal changes of government. Indeed, because of the coup's 
similarity to previous ones, at the time there was little evidence 
to suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, from 1970 until mid- 1987, Assad 
has provided Syria with a period of uncommon stability, all the 
more remarkable when viewed against the backdrop of the nation's 
postindependence history of political turbulence. 

Although uncertainty and internal tension are threads that run 
through Syrian history, not all conflict has been negative. From 
the earliest days of civilization to more recent times, struggle among 
various indigenous groups as well as with invading foreigners has 
resulted in cultural enrichment. Phoenicians, Canaanites, Assyri- 
ans, and Persians are but a few of the peoples who have figured 
prominently in this legacy. As significant were the contributions 
of Alexander the Great and his successors and the Roman and 
Byzantine rulers (see Ancient Syria, ch. 1). 

But as great as these considerable foreign influences were, few 
would disagree that the most important additions to Syria's rich 
culture were made following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, 
when Arab conquerors brought Islam to Greater Syria (see Glos- 
sary). By A.D. 661, Muawiyah, the governor of Syria, had pro- 
claimed himself caliph, or temporal leader, and established 
Damascus as the seat of the Umayyad Empire. Thus began a 
dynasty whose realm stretched as far west as southern France and 
as far east as Afghanistan, an expanse of territory that surpassed 
even that which Rome had held a few centuries earlier. Thirteen 
hundred years after his death, the memory of Muawiyah and his 
accomplishments still stirs pride and respect in Syria. Likewise, 
the image of the great Muslim general Saladin (Salah ad Din al 
Ayubbi), who defeated the Christian Crusaders in 1187, is deeply 
imprinted on the Syrian psyche. 

These native heroes notwithstanding, it was foreign domination 
that determined the political boundaries of present-day Syria. First 


the Ottoman Turks, then after World War I the French, and, more 
recently, the Israelis shaped the contours of the nation, breaking 
off chunks of what was Greater Syria and repositioning borders 
to leave the configuration of the contemporary state. In spite of 
these territorial changes, support for a return to the glory that was 
Greater Syria and a development of a powerful nation-state has 
remained strong. Syrians share a vision of a pan-Arab entity — the 
unification of all Arab brethren throughout the region (see Politi- 
cal Orientations, ch. 4). 

Despite the rhetoric and idealism, in Syria, as in many developing 
nations, strife between and among communities has hindered 
development of a genuine national spirit. Also, the importance of 
regional, sectarian, and religious identities as the primary sources 
of loyalty have frustrated nation-building. Although about 85 per- 
cent of Syrians were Muslims, in 1987 most scholars agreed that 
the domination of Assad's small Alawi (see Glossary) sect over the 
larger Sunni (see Glossary) community was at the root of much 
of the internal friction, even though ethnic issues also accounted 
for a certain amount of tension. Other significant minorities that 
contributed to social tensions were Druzes (see Glossary), Kurds, 
Armenians, and Circassians (see The Peoples, ch. 2). 

Although internal discord is a fact of life in every country in the 
Middle East, it is difficult to imagine that dissent in any of them 
could have been met more brutally than it was in Syria in the 1980s. 
One dissident group was the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni fun- 
damentalist, antigovernment movement whose popularity grew 
markedly in the late 1970s. Unlike Islamic fundamentalist move- 
ments in certain other Middle Eastern countries, the Muslim 
Brotherhood opposed the Assad regime not so much for its secu- 
larism as for its sectarian favoritism. To protest Alawi domination, 
the Muslim Brotherhood and other like-minded groups undertook 
a series of violent attacks against the Baath (Arab Socialist Resur- 
rection) Party government. After Assad's attempts at negotiation 
failed, Muslim Brotherhood attacks increased in frequency, and 
the government responded in kind. Using his armed forces, in late 
1981 Assad finally isolated Muslim Brotherhood adherents in their 
strongholds of Aleppo and Hamah (see fig. 1). In February 1982, 
with no regard for civilian safety, the full force of the Syrian army 
was brought to bear on the rebels in Hamah. Entire sections of 
the city, including the architecturally magnificent ancient quarter, 
were reduced to rubble by tank and artillery fire, as upward of 
25,000 citizens were killed. This lesson in abject obedience was not 
lost on the populace, for as of mid- 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood 
and its antigovernment allies were almost moribund (see The 


Assad Era, ch. 1; Ethnic and Religious Opposition Movements, 
ch. 5). 

Other violent stresses on internal stability occurred later in 1982. 
In June, Israel invaded Lebanon with the stated aim of driving 
away Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas from 
Israel's northern border. After a few days of fighting and constant 
Israeli advances, it became obvious that Israel's goal was not merely 
the creation of a security zone, but rather the complete destruc- 
tion of the PLO or at least its forced expulsion from Lebanon. In 
achieving this objective, armed confrontation with Syrian forces 
was inevitable. Although some of the Syrian units gave a good 
accounting against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), in general the 
IDF overwhelmed the Syrians. This domination was nowhere more 
evident than in air battles over the Biqa Valley in which the Israeli 
Air Force destroyed nineteen air defense sites and downed more 
than eighty Syrian aircraft, while losing only two aircraft (see 
Syrian-Israeli Hostility, ch. 5). Despite these setbacks, as the only 
Arab leader to stand up to the Israeli assault, Assad gained the 
respect of other Middle Eastern states. The defeats were not enough 
to induce Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, and eventu- 
ally it worked out a modus vivendi with the IDF. 

But for Syria there was no relief from internal pressures. Hav- 
ing weathered a "miniwar" in Lebanon, in 1983 another crisis 
arose when in November Assad suffered a severe heart attack that 
hospitalized him for several months. In February 1984, in a prema- 
ture effort to succeed his brother, Rifaat al Assad moved his Defense 
Companies (now called Unit 569) into positions around the capi- 
tal. Fighting broke out but soon subsided; however, in May it 
erupted once more in Latakia. As Hafiz al Assad recovered and 
reasserted his authority, he neutralized political opportunists 
(including his brother) while making changes in the Baath Party 
and army hierarchies. To restore faith in his regime, Assad began 
promoting a personality cult, the net effect of which was to identify 
government with Hafiz al Assad rather than to encourage govern- 
ment through political and social institutions (see Post- 1982 Politi- 
cal Developments, ch. 4). Thus, in 1987 many concerns remained 
about succession and about whether or not Syria could peacefully 
survive the loss of Assad as the adhesive that held together the 
diverse elements of society. 

An added concern was the perilous state of the economy (see 
Period of Economic Retrenchment, 1986-90, ch. 3). Years of 
drought in the early 1980s had effectively stymied agricultural 
growth. By the time production began to rebound in the mid-1980s, 
commodity prices for Syria's agricultural goods were dropping. 


Furthermore, the fledgling oil industry was retarded by the world- 
wide slump in petroleum prices and by Syria's own decision to cease 
pipeline transportation of Iraqi oil, thus surrendering lucrative tran- 
sit fees. Moreover, Syria's stance in the Iran-Iraq War and its 
intransigence on other regional matters so angered wealthier Arab 
nations that they reduced financial support to the Assad regime. 

And perhaps most salient, the need to provision tens of thou- 
sands of troops stationed in Lebanon and to maintain strong 
defenses against Israel caused a crushing defense burden. Although 
figures on defense outlays varied widely, in the late 1980s they 
apparently accounted for anywhere from one-third to just over one- 
half of all government spending. Regardless of which figure is 
accepted, clearly military spending was inhibiting development by 
diverting funds from desperately needed social programs. 

The armed forces have played a central role in Syria's recent social 
and political history. As in many Third World countries, the army 
has provided minorities with a channel for upward mobility. Alawis 
in particular used this route of social advancement, and by the early 
1960s they held influential positions in the military government. 
When in 1966 General Salah al Jadid overthrew General Amin 
al Hafiz, a Sunni, for the first time in the modern era an Alawi 
ruled Syria. Jadid, in turn, was overthrown in 1970 by Assad, 
another Alawi. Since then Assad has seen to it that only trusted 
relatives or friends, most of them Alawis, occupied or controlled 
politically sensitive or powerful positions. Similarly, because the 
armed forces are both the mainstay of his regime and the most likely 
threat to it, Assad has been deferential to the needs of the military 
forces and has raised the standard of living for those in uniform 
(see Conditions of Service, Morale, and Military Justice, ch. 5). 

In addition to domestic discord, Syria has been subjected to many 
external strains. Not the least of these has been Syria's long-standing 
engagement in Lebanon. Although some analysts saw this involve- 
ment as part of a desire to recreate Greater Syria, others viewed 
it as a pragmatic manifestation of Assad's ambitions toward regional 
hegemony. Regardless of motive, Syria's presence in Lebanon 
presented dangers and opportunities. The principal problem was 
that the worsening Lebanese situation jeopardized the safety of 
Syrian troops and drained Syria's fragile economy. Nevertheless, 
at various times since 1976, Syrian intervention has had the posi- 
tive effect of quelling some of the violence that has swept Lebanon 
and raised faint hopes of peace. Such positive intervention occurred 
most recently in February 1987, when Assad sent his forces into 
West Beirut to restore order to the Muslim half of the city (see Syria 
and the Lebanese Crisis, 1975-87, ch. 5). 


Some scholars call Syria a nation of contradictions with good 
reason. Certainly these are inconsistencies in Syria's regional and 
international politics (see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). In spite of the pan- 
Arab ideology that is at the heart of the ruling Baath Party princi- 
ples, Syria was one of only two Arab states (Libya being the other) 
supporting non-Arab Iran against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. In 
addition, Syria's steadfast refusal to negotiate with Israel ever since 
the June 1967 War and its support for radical Palestinian factions 
have set it apart from most of the Arab world. 

In foreign relations, Syria proved it could be a supportive friend 
or obstinate foe — in fact, sometimes both within a short period of 
time. For example, every few years Syria seemed to begin a rap- 
prochement with Jordan and Iraq, its neighbors to the south and 
east, but these thaws in otherwise cool relations have been short. 
Likewise, relations with various Lebanese and Palestinian factions 
have blown hot and cold. 

Certainly the Soviet Union has found Assad a less than pliable 
client. Throughout the Soviet-Syrian relationship, Assad has taken 
much more in military assistance than the Soviets have received 
in terms of influence in Syria or the rest of the region. For the most 
part, Soviet efforts to dominate Syrian political and even military 
activities have had limited success (see Syria-Soviet Relations, 
ch. 4). 

In 1987 Assad was thought by many to be an enigma, thus his 
nickname, "the sphinx." Having survived the tribulations of seven- 
teen years of rule, he deserved his reputation as a wily and able 
politician. Diplomatic and practical when circumstances called for 
these qualities, Assad could also be manipulative and merciless, 
especially with regime opponents. Syrian dissidents in exile or 
regional political enemies have not been immune from Assad's 
intelligence and security networks. Insofar as Assad has assented 
to terrorist training in Syrian-controlled Lebanon and even on 
Syrian soil, he most likely has at his disposal a pool of individuals 
willing to carry out certain violent missions. Clearly, media atten- 
tion given to Syria's complicity in terrorist incidents in Western 
Europe in the mid-1980s has underscored such activity (see Spon- 
sorship of Terrorism, ch. 5). 

In summary, in mid- 1987 Syria was enjoying a period of unprece- 
dented internal stability. In many ways, Assad had very nearly real- 
ized his ambitions for leadership in regional affairs. Syria was a 
key to the Palestinian problem and to any resolution of the Arab- 
Israeli dispute; it was also at the vortex of the Lebanese situation. 
Furthermore, it was making its presence felt in the Iran-Iraq War. 
Its economy, although by no means burgeoning, was at least 


resilient in the face of difficult circumstances. And even though 
its international image was tarnished because of its association with 
terrorism, that, too, was improving as a result of Syria's crack- 
down on Shia (see Glossary) extremists in Lebanon. Most trouble- 
some, perhaps, was the unresolved question of who would succeed 
the somewhat frail president. It was uncertain if any successor could 
overcome the conflicts that were sure to surface after Assad or could 
maintain the nation's pace of development. 

August 31, 1987 Thomas Collelo 


Chapter 1. Historical Setting 

Fragment of relief plaque, ca. 2500 B.C., Tall Ham 

PRESENT-DAY SYRIA constitutes only a small portion of the 
ancient geographical Syria. Until the twentieth century, when 
Western powers began to carve out the rough contours of the con- 
temporary states of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, the whole 
of the settled region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea 
was called Syria, the name given by the ancient Greeks to the land 
bridge that links three continents. For this reason, historians and 
political scientists usually use the term Greater Syria (see Glossary) 
to denote the area in the prestate period. 

Historically, Greater Syria rarely ruled itself, primarily because 
of its vulnerable position between the Mediterranean Sea and the 
desert. As a marchland between frequently powerful empires on 
the north, east, and south, Syria was often a battlefield for the 
political destinies of dynasties and empires. Unlike other parts of 
the Middle East, Greater Syria was prized as a fertile cereal- growing 
oasis. It was even more critical as a source of the lumber needed 
for building imperial fleets in the preindustrial period. 

Even though it was exploited politically, Greater Syria benefited 
immeasurably from the cultural diversity of the peoples who came 
to claim parts or all of it and who remained to contribute and par- 
ticipate in the remarkable spiritual and intellectual flowering that 
characterized Greater Syria's cultures in the ancient and medieval 
periods. Incorporating some of the oldest continuously inhabited 
cities in the world, Greater Syria was in a unique position to foster 
intellectual activities. By 1400 B.C., Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, 
Byblos, Jaffa, Horns, Gaza, Tyre, and Sidon already had been 
established; some of these cities had flourished for many centuries. 
Because Greater Syria was usually ruled by foreigners, the inhabi- 
tants traditionally identified themselves with their cities, and in con- 
temporary Syria each city continues to have a unique sociopolitical 

A recurrent theme of Greater Syria's history has been the 
encounters between Eastern and Western powers on its soil. Even 
in the ancient period, it was the focus of a continual dialectic, both 
intellectual and bellicose, between the Middle East and the West. 
During the medieval period, this dialectic was intensified as it 
became colored by diametrically opposed religious points of view 
regarding rights to the land. The Christian Byzantines contended 
with Arabs and later the Christian Crusaders competed with 
Muslim Arabs for land they all held sacred. 


A Country Study 

The advent of Arab Muslim rule in A.D. 635 provided the two 
major themes of Syrian history: the Islamic religion and the world 
community of Arabs. According to traditionalist Muslims, the 
greatest period of Islamic history was the time of the brief rule of 
Muhammad — the prototype for the perfect temporal ruler — and 
the time of the first four caliphs (known as rashidun, meaning rightly 
guided), when man presumably behaved as God commanded and 
established a society on earth unequaled before or after. During 
this period religion and state were one, and Muslims ruled Mus- 
lims according to Muslim law. The succeeding Umayyad (661-750) 
and Abbasid (750-1258) caliphates were extensions of the first 
period and proved the military and intellectual might of Muslims. 
The history of Greater Syria in the early medieval period is essen- 
tially the history of political Islam at one of its most glorious 
moments — the period of the Umayyad caliphate when the Islamic 
empire, with its capital at Damascus, stretched from the Oxus River 
(present-day Amu Darya) in Central and West Asia to southern 

A different view of Syrian history denies that the greatness of 
the Arab past was a purely Islamic manifestation. The history of 
the Arabs began before the coming of Muhammad, and that which 
the Arabs achieved during the Umayyad and Abbasid empires was 
evidence not only of the rich inheritance from Greek and Roman 
days but also of the vitality of Arab culture. 

Since independence in 1946, Syria's history has been dominated 
by four overriding factors. First is the deeply felt desire among 
Syrian Arabs — Christian and Muslim alike — to achieve some kind 
of unity with the other Arabs of the Middle East in fulfillment of 
their aspirations for regional leadership. Second is a desire for eco- 
nomic and social prosperity. Third is a universal dislike of Israel, 
the creation of which Syrians feel was forcibly imposed by the West 
and which they view as a threat to Arab unity (see Foreign Policy, 
ch. 4). The fourth issue is the dominant political role of the military. 

Ancient Syria 

The first recorded mention of Greater Syria is in Egyptian annals 
detailing expeditions to the Syrian coastland to log the cedar, pine, 
and cypress of the Ammanus and Lebanon mountain ranges in 
the fourth millennium B.C. Sumer, a kingdom of non-Semitic peo- 
ples at the southern boundary of ancient Babylonia, also sent 
expeditions in the third millennium B.C., chiefly in search of cedar 
from the Ammanus and gold and silver from Cilicia. The Sumerians 
most probably traded with the Syrian port city of Byblos, 


Historical Setting 

Figure 2. Ancient Syria 

which was also negotiating with Egypt for exportation of timber 
and the resin necessary for mummification. 

An enormous commercial network linking Anatolia, Mesopota- 
mia, Egypt, the Aegean, and the Syrian coast was developed. The 
network was perhaps under the aegis of the kingdom of Ebla ("city 
of the white stones"), the chief site of which was discovered in 1975 
at Tall Mardikh, sixty-four kilometers south of Aleppo (see fig. 2). 
Numerous tablets give evidence of a sophisticated and powerful 
indigenous Syrian empire, which dominated northern Syria and 
portions of lower Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Iran. Its chief rival 


Syria: A Country Study 

was Akkad in southern Mesopotamia, which flourished about 2300 
B.C. In addition to identifying another great cultural and politi- 
cal power for the period — and an independent Syrian kingdom at 
that — the discovery of Ebla has had other important ramifications. 
The oldest Semitic language was thought to have been Amorite, 
but the newly found language of Ebla, a variant of Paleo-Canaanite, 
is considerably older. Ebla twice conquered the city of Mari, the 
capital of Amurru, the kingdom of the Semitic-speaking Amorites. 
After protracted tension between Akkad and Ebla, the great king 
of Akkad, Naram Sin, destroyed Ebla by fire in about 2300. Naram 
Sin also destroyed Arman, which may have been an ancient name 
for Aleppo. 

Amorite power was effectively eclipsed in 1600, when Egypt 
mounted a full attack on Greater Syria and brought the entire region 
under its suzerainty. During the fifteenth and fourteenth centu- 
ries, the area was in tremendous political upheaval because of the 
growing Assyrian power pressing from the east and invasions from 
the north of Hittites who eventually settled in north and central 

Another Semitic-speaking people, the Canaanites, may have been 
part of the same migration that brought the Amorites into Syria 
from northern Arabia in approximately 2400. The Amorites came 
under the influence of Mesopotamia, whereas the Canaanites, who 
had intermarried with indigenous Syrians of the coast, were prob- 
ably under the initial influence of Egypt. 

The descendants of the intermarriages between Canaanites and 
coastal Syrians were the Phoenicians, the greatest seafaring mer- 
chants of the ancient world. The Phoenicians improved and devel- 
oped iron tools and significantly advanced the art of shipbuilding. 
Their mastery of the seas allowed them to establish a network of 
independent city-states; however, these entities were never united 
politically, partially because of the continual harassment from Hit- 
tites to the north and Egyptians to the southwest. The name given 
to their land — Canaan in Hurrian, Phoenicia in Greek — refers to 
the fabulously valued purple dye extracted from mollusks found 
at that time only on the Syrian coast. From this period, purple 
became the color of the robes of kings because only they and other 
small groups of the ancient Middle Eastern elite could afford to 
purchase the rare dye. The wealth that was derived in part from 
the dye trade sparked the economic flame that made it possible for 
Greater Syrian city-states to enjoy a wide measure of prosperity. 

Many of Greater Syria's major contributions to civilization were 
developed during the ancient period. Syria's greatest legacy, the 
alphabet, was developed by Phoenicians during the second 


Historical Setting 

millennium. The Phoenicians introduced their thirty-letter alphabet 
to the Aramaeans, among other Semitic-speaking people, and to 
the Greeks, who added letters for vowels not used in the Semitic 

The Phoenicians, somewhat pressed for space for their growing 
population, founded major colonies on the North African littoral, 
the most notable of which was Carthage. In the process of found- 
ing new city-states, they discovered the Atlantic Ocean. 

The Aramaeans had settled in Greater Syria at approximately 
the end of the thirteenth century B.C., approximately the same 
time at which the Jews, or Israelites, migrated to the area. The 
Aramaeans settled in the Mesopotamian-Syrian corridor to the 
north and established the kingdom of Aram, biblical Syria. As over- 
land merchants, they opened trade to southwestern Asia, and their 
capital at Damascus became a city of immense wealth and influence. 
At Aleppo they built a huge fortress, still standing. The Aramaeans 
simplified the Phoenician alphabet and carried their language, 
Aramaic, to their chief areas of commerce. Aramaic displaced 
Hebrew in Greater Syria as the vernacular (Jesus spoke Aramaic), 
and it became the language of commerce throughout the Middle 
East and the official language of the Persian Empire. Aramaic con- 
tinued to be spoken in the Syrian countryside for almost 1 ,000 years, 
and in the 1980s it remained in daily use in a handful of villages 
near the Syrian-Lebanese border. A dialect of Aramaic continues 
to be the language of worship in the Syrian Orthodox Church. 

The plethora of city-states in Greater Syria could not withstand 
the repeated attacks from the north by the powerful Assyrian 
Empire, which under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar finally over- 
whelmed them in the eighth century. Assyrian aggressors were 
replaced by the conquering Babylonians in the seventh century and 
by the then-mighty Persian Empire in the sixth century. Under 
the aegis of the Persian Empire, Syria had a measure of self-rule, 
as it was to have under a succession of foreign rulers from that time 
until independence in the twentieth century. When Alexander the 
Great conquered the Persian Empire in 333, local political powers — 
which probably would have continued to contest for control of 
Greater Syria — were effectively shattered, and the area came into 
the strong cultural orbit of Western ideas and institutions. 

At Alexander's death, the empire was divided among five of his 
generals. General Seleucus became heir to the lands formerly under 
Persian control, which included Greater Syria. The Seleucids ruled 
for three centuries and founded a kingdom with its capital at Damas- 
cus, which later became referred to as the Kingdom of Syria. 


A Country Study 

Seleucus named many cities after his mother, Laodicea; the greatest 
became Latakia, a major Syrian port. 

Enormous numbers of Greek immigrants flocked to the King- 
dom of Syria. Syrian trade was vastly expanded as a result of the 
newcomers' efforts, reaching into India, the Far East, and Europe. 
The Greeks built new cities in Syria and colonized existing ones. 
Syrian and Greek cultures synthesized to create Near Eastern 
Hellenism, noted for remarkable developments in jurisprudence, 
philosophy, and science. 

Replacing the Greeks and the Seleucids, Roman emperors 
inherited already thriving cities — Damascus, Palmyra (present-day 
Tadmur), and Busra ash Sham in the fertile Hawran Plateau south 
of Damascus. Under the emperor Hadrian, Syria was prosperous, 
and its cities were major trading centers; Hawran was a well- watered 
breadbasket. After making a survey of the country, the Romans 
established a tax system based on the potential harvest of farm- 
lands; it remained the key to the land tax structure until 1945. The 
Romans gave Syria some of the grandest buildings in the world, 
as well as aqueducts, wells, and roads that are still in use. 

Neither the Seleucids nor the Romans ruled the area without 
conflict. The Seleucids had to deal with powerful Arab peoples, 
the Nabataeans, who had established an empire at Petra (in present- 
day Jordan) and at Busra ash Sham. The Romans had to face the 
Palmyrenes, who had built Palmyra, a city even more magnifi- 
cent than Damascus and the principal stop on the caravan route 
from Horns to the Euphrates. 

By the time the Romans arrived, Greater Syrians had developed 
irrigation techniques, the alphabet, and astronomy. In A.D. 324, 
the emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Byzan- 
tium, renaming it Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). From 
there the Byzantines ruled Greater Syria, dividing it into two 
provinces: Syria Prima, with Antioch as the capital and Aleppo 
the major city; and Syria Secunda, ruled frequently from Hamah. 
Syria Secunda was divided into two districts: Phoenicia Prima, with 
Tyre as the capital; and Phoenicia Secunda, ruled from Damascus. 
The ruling families of Syria during this period were the Ghassanids, 
Christian Arabs loyal to Byzantium, from whom many Syrians now 
trace descent. 

Byzantine rule in Syria was marked by constant warfare with 
the Persian Sassanian Empire to the east. In these struggles, Syria 
often became a battleground. In 611 the Persians succeeded in 
invading Syria and Palestine, capturing Jerusalem in 614. Shortly 
thereafter, the Byzantines counterattacked and retook their former 
possessions. During the campaign, the Byzantines tried to force 


Roman ruins at Palmyra 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

Greek Orthodoxy on the Syrian inhabitants, but were unsuccess- 
ful. Beset by financial problems, largely as a result of their costly 
campaigns against the Persians, the Byzantines stopped subsidiz- 
ing the Christian Arab tribes guarding the Syrian steppe. Some 
scholars believe this was a fatal mistake, for these tribes were then 
susceptible to a new force emanating from the south — Islam. 

The Byzantine heritage remains in Syria's Christian sects and 
great monastic ruins. In the fourth century A.D., Roman emperor 
Theodosius destroyed the temple to Jupiter in Damascus and built 
a cathedral in honor of John the Baptist. The huge monastery at 
Dayr Simaan near Aleppo, begun by Simeon Stylites in the fifth 
century, is perhaps the greatest Christian monument built before 
the tenth century. 

Muslim Empires 

During the first decades of the seventh century, Muhammad, a 
merchant from Mecca, converted many of his fellow Arabs to a new 
religion, Islam, which was conceived as the continuation and 
fulfillment of the Judeo-Christian tradition (see Muslims, ch. 2). 
By 629 the religious fervor and pressures of an expanding popula- 
tion impelled Muslim Arab tribes to invade lands to the north of 
the Arabian Peninsula. They called these lands bilad ash sham, the 
country or land of Sham — the name Arabs often used to designate 

Syria: A Country Study 

Damascus. The word sham derives from the Arabic word for dig- 
nity, indicating the high regard most Arabs have had for Damas- 
cus. Arabs, including Syrians, have referred to Syria by this name 
ever since and call Syrians Shamis. 

In 635 Damascus surrendered to the great Muslim general, 
Khalid ibn al Walid. Undermined by Persian incursions, religious 
schisms, and rebellions in the provinces caused by harsh rule, 
Byzantium could offer little resistance to Islam. 

In succeeding centuries, Muslims extended and consolidated their 
rule in many areas, and by 1200 they controlled lands from the 
Atlantic to the Bay of Bengal, from central Russia to the Gulf of 
Aden. Wherever they went, they built mosques, tombs, forts, and 
beautiful cities. The ruins of such structures are found widely in 
Greater Syria, a heartland of Islamic and Arab culture. 

Muhammad made Medina his first capital, and it was here that 
he died. Leadership of the faithful fell to Abu Bakr (632-34), 
Muhammad's father-in-law and the first of the four orthodox 
caliphs, or temporal leaders of the Muslims. Umar followed him 
(634-44) and organized the government of captured provinces. The 
third caliph was Uthman (644-56), under whose administration 
the compilation of the Quran was accomplished. Among the aspi- 
rants to the caliphate was Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in- 
law, whose supporters felt he should be the Prophet's successor. 
Upon the murder of Uthman, Ali became caliph (656-61). After 
a civil war with other aspirants to the caliphate, Ali moved his capital 
to Mesopotamia and was later assassinated at Al Kufah. Ali's early 
followers established the first of Islam's dissident sects, the Shias 
(from Shiat Ali, party of Ali). Those who had accepted the succes- 
sions before and after Ali remained the orthodox of Islam; they 
are called Sunnis — from the word sunna, meaning orthodox. 

Umayyad Caliphate 

After Ali's murder in 661, Muawiyah — the governor of Syria 
during the early Arab conquests, a kinsman of Uthman, and a 
member of the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet — proclaimed himself 
caliph and established the Umayyad caliphate with its capital at 
Damascus. From there he conquered Muslim enemies to the east, 
south, and west and fought the Byzantines to the north. Muawiyah 
is considered the architect of the Islamic empire and a political 
genius. Under his governorship, Syria became the most prosper- 
ous province of the caliphate. Muawiyah created a professional army 
and, although rigorous in training them, won the undying loyalty 
of his troops for his generous and regularly paid salaries. Heir 
to Syrian shipyards built by the Byzantines, he established the 


Historical Setting 

caliphate's first navy. He also conceived and established an effi- 
cient government, including a comptroller of finance and a postal 

Muawiyah cultivated the goodwill of Christian Syrians by recruit- 
ing them for the army at double pay, by appointing Christians to 
many high offices, and by appointing his son by his Christian wife 
as his successor. His sensitivity to human behavior accounted in 
great part for his political success. The modern Syrian image of 
Muawiyah is that of a man with enormous amounts of hilm, a com- 
bination of magnanimity, tolerance, and self-discipline, and of duha 
(political expertise) — qualities Syrians continue to expect of their 
leaders. By 732 the dynasty he founded had conquered Spain and 
Tours in France and stretched east to Samarkand and Kabul, far 
exceeding the extent of the Roman Empire (see fig. 3). Thus, 
Damascus achieved a glory unrivaled among cities of the eighth 

The Umayyad Muslims established a military government in 
Syria and used the country primarily as a base of operations. They 
lived aloof from the people and at first made little effort to convert 
Christians to Islam. The Umayyads administered the lands in the 
manner of the Byzantines, giving complete authority to provin- 
cial governors. 

In the administration of law, the Umayyads followed the tradi- 
tions set by the Hellenistic monarchies and the Roman Empire. 
The conqueror's law — in this case Muslim law (sharia) — applied 
only to those of the same faith or nationality as the conquerors. 
For non-Muslims civil law was the law of their particular millet 
(separate religious community, also called milla)\ religious leaders 
administered the law of the millet. This system prevailed through- 
out Islam and has survived in Syria's legal codes (see Muslims, 
ch. 2; Constitutional Framework, ch. 4). 

During the eighty-nine years of Umayyad rule, most Syrians 
became Muslims, and the Arabic language replaced Aramaic. The 
Umayyads minted coins, built hospitals, and constructed under- 
ground canals to bring water to the towns. The country prospered 
both economically and intellectually. Foreign trade expanded, and 
educated Jews and Christians, many of them Greek, found employ- 
ment in the caliphal courts, where they studied and practiced medi- 
cine, alchemy, and philosophy. 

Succeeding Caliphates and Kingdoms 

Under later dissolute caliphs, the Umayyad dynasty began to 
decline at a time when both Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iran began 
to press against Umayyad borders. By 750 the Abbasids, whose 


A Country Study 

forces originated in Khorasan (in northeast Iran), had conquered 
the Umayyads and established the caliphate in Baghdad. As a result, 
Syria became a province of an empire. 

Abbasid rule over Syria, however, was precarious and often 
challenged by independent Muslim princes. The greatest of these 
was Abu Ali Hasan, who founded a kingdom known as the Ham- 
danid. A Shia, he established his capital at Aleppo, and the Abbasids 
recognized him as Sayf ad Dawlah (meaning sword of the state). 
The Hamdanid dynasty ruled throughout the tenth century and 
became famous for its achievements in science and letters. In Europe 
it was known for its persistent attacks against Constantinople. The 
Hamdanid kingdom fell in 1094 to Muslim Seljuk Turks invading 
from the northeast. 

During the same period, the Shia Fatimids established them- 
selves in Egypt and drove north against Syria. The Fatimids were 
less tolerant of subject peoples than their predecessors. Intolerance 
reached its height under the caliph Abu Ali Mansur al Hakim 
(966-1021), who destroyed churches and caused Christians to flee 
to the mountains. When he announced his divinity, his mother mur- 
dered him. In the secluded valleys of Mount Hermon in Syria, 
his followers found tribesmen to adopt his religion, the ancestors 
of Syria's present-day Druzes (see Glossary). 

Muslim rule of Christian holy places, overpopulation, and con- 
stant warfare in Europe prompted the Crusades, the first major 
Western colonial venture in the Middle East. Between 1097 and 
1144 Crusaders established the principalities of Edessa, Antioch, 
Tripoli, and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The politically frag- 
mented area was an easy conquest for the Europeans. The first 
Muslim threat to European entrenchment came not from within 
Greater Syria but from Zangi, the amir (see Glossary) of Mosul 
(in modern Iraq). Zangi took Edessa in 1144, and his son, Nur 
ad Din (light of the faith), secured Damascus, extending the realm 
from Aleppo to Mosul. When the last Shia Fatimid caliph died, 
Nur ad Din secured Egypt as well. Eliminating Sunni-Shia sec- 
tarianism, the political rivalry that had so aided the European ven- 
ture, he invoked jihad, holy war, as a unifying force for Arabs in 
Greater Syria and Egypt. 

The jihad was to liberate Jerusalem, the third holiest city to Mus- 
lims, who call it Bayt al Quds (house of holiness) in memory of 
Muhammad's stopping there on his night journey to heaven. It 
fell to Nur ad Din's lieutenant, Saladin (Salah ad Din al Ayubbi, 
meaning rectitude of the faith), to recapture Jerusalem. Saladin, 
a Kurd, unified Syria and Egypt, a necessary preliminary and, after 
many setbacks, captured Mosul, Aleppo, and the string of 


Historical Setting 

Syria: A Country Study 

cities from Edessa to Nasihin. In 1 182 Saladin took Al Karak (also 
known as Krak des Chevaliers), a Crusader fort on the route 
between Horns and Tripoli held by the infamous Reginald of Chatil- 
lon, who had broken treaties, molested Saladin' s sister, and attacked 
Mecca for the purpose of obtaining the Prophet's body and 
exhibiting it at Al Karak for a fee. Saladin besieged Jerusalem on 
September 20, 1187, and nine days later Jerusalem surrendered. 
Saladin' s behavior and his complete control of his troops earned 
him the respect of Jerusalemites and the epithet "flower of Islamic 

Saladin inflicted mighty blows against the Crusaders, raised Mus- 
lim pride and self-respect, and founded the Ayyubid dynasty, which 
was to govern Egypt until 1260. During his lifetime, he created 
harmony among Muslims in the Middle East and gained a posi- 
tion of affection and honor among them that remains strong to the 
present, particularly in Syria. 

When Saladin died of malaria in 1192, his rule extended from 
the Tigris River to North Africa and south to the Sudan. Saladin' s 
death brought this unity to an end. His Ayyubid successors quar- 
reled among themselves, and Syria broke into small dynasties cen- 
tered in Aleppo, Hamah, Horns, and Damascus. By the fourteenth 
century, after repelling repeated invasions by Mongols from the 
north, the Mamluk sultans of Egypt, successors to the Ayyubids, 
ruled from the Nile to the Euphrates. Their great citadels and monu- 
ments still stand, although Tamerlane's destruction of much of 
Damascus in 1402 seriously damaged such edifices as the Great 
Umayyad Mosque. In 1516 the Ottoman sultan in Turkey defeated 
the Mamluks at Aleppo and made Syria a province of a new Mus- 
lim empire. 

Ottoman Empire 

The Ottomans were nomadic Muslim Turks from Central Asia 
who had been converted to Islam by Umayyad conquerors in the 
eighth century. Led by Uthman (whence the Western term Otto- 
man), they founded a principality in 1300 amid the ruins of the 
Mongol- wrecked Seljuk Empire in northwest Turkey. Fifty years 
later, Uthman's successors invaded Europe. In 1453 they conquered 
Constantinople and in the sixteenth century conquered all of the 
Middle East. From 1300 to 1916, when the empire fell, thirty-six 
sultans, all descendants of Uthman, ruled much of the Muslim 
world. Europeans referred to the Ottoman throne as the Sublime 
Porte, a name derived from a gate of the sultan's palace in Istanbul. 

Beginning in 1516, the Ottomans ruled Syria through pashas, 
who governed with unlimited authority over the land under their 


Al Karak (Krak des Chevaliers) 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

control, although they were responsible ultimately to the Sublime 
Porte. Pashas were both administrative and military leaders. So 
long as they collected their taxes, maintained order, and ruled an 
area not of immediate military importance, the Sublime Porte left 
them alone. In turn, the pashas ruled smaller administrative dis- 
tricts through either a subordinate Turk or a loyal Arab. Occa- 
sionally, as in the area that was to become Lebanon, the Arab 
subordinate maintained his position more through his own power 
than through loyalty. Throughout Ottoman rule, there was little 
contact with the authorities except among wealthier Syrians who 
entered government service or studied in Turkish universities. 

The system was not particularly onerous to Syrians because the 
Turks respected Arabic as the language of the Quran and accepted 
the mantle of defenders of the faith. Damascus was made the major 
entrepot for Mecca, and as such it acquired a holy character to 
Muslims because of the baraka (spiritual force or blessing) of the 
countless pilgrims who passed through on the hajj, the pilgrimage 
to Mecca (see Muslims, ch. 2). 

Ottoman administration often followed patterns set by previous 
rulers. Each religious minority — Shia Muslim, Greek Orthodox, 
Maronite, Armenian, and Jewish — constituted a millet. The reli- 
gious heads of each community administered all personal status 
law and performed certain civil functions as well. 


Syria: A Country Study 

The Syrian economy did not flourish under the Ottomans. At 
times, attempts were made to rebuild the country, but on the whole, 
Syria remained poor. The population decreased by nearly 30 per- 
cent, and hundreds of villages virtually disappeared into the desert. 
At the end of the eighteenth century, only one-eighth of the vil- 
lages formerly on the register of the Aleppo pashalik (domain of 
a pasha) were still inhabited. Only the area now known as Leba- 
non achieved economic progress, largely resulting from the rela- 
tively independent rule of the Druze amirs. 

Although impoverished by Ottoman rule, Syria continued to 
attract European traders, who for centuries had imported spices, 
fruits, and textiles from the Middle East to the West. By the fifteenth 
century, Aleppo was the Middle East's chief marketplace and had 
eclipsed Damascus in wealth, creating a rivalry between the two 
cities that continues. 

With the traders from the West came missionaries, teachers, 
scientists, and tourists whose governments began to clamor for cer- 
tain rights. France demanded the right to protect Christians, and 
in 1535 Sultan Sulayman I granted France several "capitula- 
tions" — extraterritorial rights that developed later into political 
semiautonomy, not only for the French but also for the Christians 
protected by them. The British acquired similar rights in 1580 and 
established the Levant Company in Aleppo. By the end of the eigh- 
teenth century, the Russians had claimed protective rights over 
the Greek Orthodox community. 

The Ottoman Empire began to show signs of decline in the eigh- 
teenth century. By the nineteenth century, European powers had 
begun to take advantage of Ottoman weakness through both mili- 
tary and political penetration, including Napoleon's invasion of 
Egypt, subsequent British intervention, and French occupation of 
Lebanon. Economic development of Syria through the use of 
European capital — for example, railroads built largely with French 
money — brought further incursions. 

Western penetration became decidedly political after the Druze 
uprising in the Syrian province of Lebanon in 1860. The revolt 
began in the north as a Maronite Christian peasant uprising against 
Christian landlords. As the revolt moved southward to the territo- 
ries where the landlords were Druzes, the conflagration acquired 
an intersectarian character, and the Druzes massacred some 10,000 
Maronites. France sent in troops and removed them a year later 
only after the European powers had forced the Sublime Porte to 
grant new laws for Lebanon. By the Statute of 1861, for the first 
time Mount Lebanon was officially detached from Syria, and its 
administration came increasingly under the control of France. 


Mosque of Sultan 
Sulayman I in Damascus 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

Because of European pressure as well as the discontent of the 
Syrian people, the Ottoman sultans enacted some reforms during 
the nineteenth century. The Egyptian occupation of Syria from 
1831 to 1839 under the nominal authority of the sultan brought 
a centralized government, judicial reform, and regular taxation. 
But Ibrahim Pasha, son of the Egyptian ruler, became unpopular 
with the landowners because he limited their influence and with 
the peasants because he imposed conscription and taxation. He was 
eventually driven from Syria by the sultan's forces. Subsequent 
reforms of Turkish sultan Mahmud II and his son were more the- 
oretical than real and were counteracted by reactionary forces inside 
the state as well as by the inertia of Ottoman officials. Reforms 
proved somewhat successful with the Kurds and Turkomans in the 
north and with the Alawis (see Glossary) around Latakia, but 
unsuccessful with the Druzes — who lived in the Jabal Druze 
(present-day Jabal al Arab), a rugged mountainous area in south- 
west Syria — who retained their administrative and judicial auton- 
omy and exemption from military service. 

Although further reform attempts generally failed, some of the 
more successful endure. Among them are the colonization of Syria's 
frontiers, the suppression of tribal raiding, the opening of new lands 
to cultivation, and the beginnings of the settlement of the beduin 
tribes. Attempts to register the land failed, however, because of 
the peasants' fear of taxation and conscription. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909), sometimes known as Abdul 
Hamid the Damned, acquired a reputation as the most oppressive 
Ottoman sultan. Opponents died quickly; taxes became heavy. 
Abdul Hamid tried to earn the loyalty of his Muslim subjects by 
preaching pan-Islamic ideas, and in 1908, by completing the Hejaz 
Railway between Istanbul and Medina. However, the sultan's 
cruelty — coupled with that of his deputy in Acre, known in Syria 
as The Butcher — and increasing Western cultural influences set 
the stage for the first act of Arab nationalism. World War I opened 
the next. 

World War I, Arab Nationalism, and The French Mandate 

The period from the outbreak of World War I in 1914 to the 
granting of France's mandate over Syria by the League of Nations 
in 1922 was marked by a complicated sequence of events and power 
politics during which Syrians achieved a brief moment of indepen- 
dence. Syrian intellectuals, many of them graduates of European 
and European- or American-run universities, were urging the study 
of Arab history, literature, and language. Also, groups of Syrians 
publicly demanded decentralization of Ottoman administration and 
administrative reform. As Ottoman governors such as Jamal Pasha 
suppressed them, Syrians went underground and demanded com- 
plete Arab independence. One of the first secret groups to form 
was Al Jamiyah al Arabiyah al Fatat (The Young Arab Society, 
known as Al Fatat, not to be confused with the present-day Al Fatah, 
or Fatah, of the Palestine Liberation Organization — PLO), of which 
Prince Faysal, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, was a member. 
Another group was Al Ahd (The Covenant), a secret association 
of Arab army officers. 

Following the outbreak of World War I, Jamal Pasha determined 
to tighten his control over Syria. Attacking dissidents ruthlessly, 
he arrested Al Fatat members. Twenty-one Arabs were hanged in 
the city squares of Damascus and Beirut on the morning of May 6, 
1916. The event is commemorated as Martyrs' Day, a national 
holiday in Syria and Lebanon. 

Events leading to Syria's independence began in the Arabian 
Peninsula. The British — anxious for Arab support against the 
Ottomans in the war and desiring to strengthen their position 
vis-a-vis the French in the determination of the Middle East's 
future — asked Sharif Husayn, leader of the Hashimite lineage and 
an Ottoman appointee over the Hejaz, to lead the Arabs in revolt. 
In return the British gave certain assurances, which Husayn 
interpreted as an endorsement of his eventual kingship of the Arab 
world. From the Arab nationalists in Damascus came pleas for the 


Historical Setting 

Hashimites to assume leadership. Husayn accepted, and on June 
5, 1916, the Hejazi tribesmen, led by Husayn' s sons and later advised 
by such British officers as T.E. Lawrence, rose against the Turks. 
In October 1918, Faysal entered Damascus as a popular hero. 

Faysal, as military governor, assumed immediate control of all 
Syria except for the areas along the Mediterranean coast where 
French troops were garrisoned. In July 1919, he convened the 
General Syrian Congress, which declared Syria sovereign and free. 
In March 1920, the congress proclaimed Faysal king of Syria. 

Faysal and his Syrian supporters began reconstructing Syria. 
They declared Arabic the official language and proceeded to have 
school texts translated from Turkish. They reopened schools and 
started new ones, including the Faculty of Law at the Syrian Univer- 
sity and the Arab Academy in Damascus. Also, Faysal appointed 
a committee to begin drawing up a constitution. 

In the areas still held by the French, Syrians continued to revolt. 
In the Jabal an Nusayriyah around Latakia in the northwest, there 
had been an uprising against French troops in May 1919. Along 
the Turkish border, the nationalist leader Ibrahim Hannanu incited 
another rebellion in July 1919. The French defeated these attempts, 
but not before Hannanu and Faysal had acquired permanent places 
in Syrian history as heroes. 

Three forces worked against Arab nationalism and Faysal' s bud- 
ding Arab monarchy. One was Britain's earlier interest in keep- 
ing eastern Mesopotamia under its control, both to counter Russian 
influence in the north and to protect oil interests in the area. The 
second was Zionism and the Jewish interest in Palestine. Although 
Britain had promised to recognize "an independent Arab State or 
a Confederation of Arab States" in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 
May 16, 1916 (not published until later — see below), in the Bal- 
four Declaration of 1917 it had also promised Zionists a "national 
home" in Palestine. The two promises were in direct conflict. The 
third force was France's determination to remain a power in the 
Middle East. Earlier in the war, the French, British, Italians, and 
Russians had met secretly to decide the fate of Arab lands. After 
the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks published secret diplomatic 
documents, among them the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In this agree- 
ment, signed only six months after the British had vaguely promised 
Husayn an Arab kingdom, Britain and France agreed to give the 
French paramount influence in what became Syria and Lebanon; 
the British were to have predominance in what became Transjordan 
and Iraq. 

At the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, Woodrow Wilson 
asked that the Arab claims to independence be given consideration, 


Syria: A Country Study 

and Faysal was invited to present the Arab cause. Fay sal's pleas 
were unavailing, however, as was a report recommending Syrian 
independence under Faysal or a United States mandate over the 
country. Disappointed by his failure at Versailles, Faysal returned 
to Damascus and declared again that Syria was nevertheless free 
and independent. 

France and Britain refused to recognize Syria's independence, 
and the Supreme Allied Council, meeting in San Remo, Italy, in 
April 1920, partitioned the Arab world into mandates as prear- 
ranged by the earlier Sykes-Picot Agreement. Syria became a 
French mandate, and French soldiers began marching from Beirut 
to Damascus. Arab resistance was crushed, and on July 25, 1920, 
the French took Damascus. Faysal fled to Europe and did not return 
to the Middle East until the British made him king of Iraq in 1921. 
Faysal 's brother Abdullah was recognized by the British as the amir 
of the region that became known as Transjordan. The boundaries 
of these states were thus drawn unilaterally by the European Allies 
after World War I. Syria had experienced its brief moment of 
independence (1919-20), the loss of which Syrians blamed on 
France and Britain. These events left a lasting bitterness against 
the West and a deep-seated determination to reunite Arabs into 
one state. This was the primary basis for modern Arab national- 
ism and the central ideological concept of future pan-Arab par- 
ties, such as the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party and the 
Arab National Movement. Aspects of the ideology also were evolved 
in the 1950s and 1960s by Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. 

French-British rivalry in the Middle East continued after the two 
countries had divided the area into spheres of influence at San 
Remo. In their mandate, the French sought to increase their 
strength by supporting and separating religious minorities and 
thereby weakening the Arab nationalist movement. France origi- 
nally planned to establish three sectarian states: an Alawi state in 
the north, a Sunni Muslim state in the center, and a Druze state 
in the south. The three were eventually to be incorporated into 
a federal Syria. France did create a Christian state in the area of 
Mount Lebanon. The Sunni Muslim state never materialized. 
Instead, in 1926 the French, working with Maronite leaders, 
expanded the original boundaries of the Christian state to create 
Lebanon. To the east, the Biqa Valley, predominantly populated 
by Muslims, was added; to the west, the Christian state was 
expanded to the coast and incorporated the cities of Tripoli, Beirut, 
Sidon, and Tyre. 

The rest of Syria was divided into five semiautonomous areas — 
the Jabal Druze, Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus, and the city of 


Historical Setting 

Alexandretta (present-day Iskenderun) — which accentuated reli- 
gious differences and cultivated regional, as opposed to national 
pan-Arab, sentiment (see Religious Life, ch. 2). The Druzes were 
given administration of the Jabal Druze, the area of their greatest 
concentration. The northern coastal region and the Jabal an Nusay- 
riyah (where there was a concentration of Alawis, Syria's largest 
religious minority) were united in the state of Latakia (present- 
day Al Ladhiqiyah Province). North of Latakia, the district of Alex- 
andretta (the present-day Turkish province of Hatay), home of some 
Turks, had a separate government. In the area to the south, in 
Palestine, European Jews were promised a Jewish homeland. 
Opposition by nationalistic Arabs to the many divisions proved 
fruitless, and Arab nationalists became isolated in Damascus. 

French rule was oppressive. The franc became the base of the 
economy, and currency management was in the hands of French 
bankers concerned with French, rather than Syrian, shareholders 
and interests. The French language became compulsory in schools, 
and pupils were required to sing the "Marseillaise." Colonial 
administrators attempted to apply techniques of administration 
learned in North Africa to the more sophisticated Arabs of Syria. 
Nearly every feature of Syrian life came under French control. 

The Syrians were an embittered, disillusioned people whose lead- 
ers kept them in ferment. Shaykh Salih ibn Ali led the Alawis in 
intermittent revolt; Shaykh Ismail Harir rebelled in the Hawran; 
Sultan Pasha al Atrash, kinsman of the paramount chief of the 
Druzes, led continual resistance in the Jabal Druze, most notably 
in 1925; and Mulhim Qasim led resistance in the mountains around 
Baalbek. The revolts, however, were not necessarily expressions 
of desire for unified Syrian independence. They were uprisings by 
individual groups — Alawis, Druzes, and beduins — against foreign 
interference, comparable to those earlier fomented against the 

In Damascus, Arab nationalism was led by educated, wealthy 
Muslims who had earlier supported Faysal. Their grievances against 
the French were many, but chief among them were French sup- 
pression of newspapers, political activity, and civil rights and the 
division of Greater Syria into several political units. They also 
objected to French reluctance to frame a constitution for Syria that 
would provide for the eventual sovereignty that the League of 
Nations mandate had ordered. When the Iraqis gained an elected 
assembly from the British in March 1924, Syrian Arabs became 
even more distressed. On February 9, 1925, as a placating move, 
the French permitted the nationalists to form the People's Party. 
Led by Faris al Khuri, they demanded French recognition of 


A Country Study 

eventual Syrian independence, unity of the country, greater stress 
on education, and the granting of civil liberties. 

The most immediate issue was Syrian unity, since France had 
divided the country into six parts. In 1925 Aleppo and Damascus 
provinces were joined, and in 1926 Lebanon became an indepen- 
dent republic under French control. The League of Nations in its 
session in Rome in February-March 1926 stated: "The Commis- 
sion thinks it beyond doubt that these oscillations in matters so cal- 
culated to encourage the controversies inspired by the rivalries of 
races, clans and religions, which are so keen in this country, to 
arouse all kinds of ambitions and to jeopardize serious moral and 
material interests, have maintained a condition of instability and 
unrest in the mandated territory.'! 

Devastating proof of the miscalculations of the French burst into 
the open with the 1925 Druze revolt. The Druzes had many com- 
plaints, but chief among them was the foreign intervention in Druze 
affairs. The Ottomans had never successfully subdued these moun- 
tain people; although split among themselves, they were united in 
their opposition to foreign rule. Led by Sultan Pasha al Atrash, 
Druzes attacked and captured Salkhad on July 20, 1925, and on 
August 2 they took the Druze capital, As Suwayda. 

News of the Druze rebellion spread throughout Syria and ignited 
revolts in Aleppo and Damascus among Syrian nationalists, who 
pleaded with Atrash to attack the Syrian capital. In October the 
Druzes invaded the Damascus region; nationalist leaders led their 
own demonstrations; and the French began systematic bombard- 
ment of the city, resulting in the death of 5,000 Syrians. The 
rebellion collapsed by the end of the year, and reluctant order 
replaced open revolt. 

The return of order gave the French military government an 
opportunity to assist Syrians in self-government, an obligation 
demanded of France by the League of Nations. In 1928 the French 
allowed the formation of the National Bloc (Al Kutlah al Watani- 
yah), composed of various nationalist groups centered in Damas- 
cus. The nationalist alliance was headed by Ibrahim Hannanu and 
Hashim Atassi and included leading members of large landowning 
families. One of the most extreme groups in the National Bloc was 
the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, a descendant of the old Al Fatat 
secret society of which Shukri al Quwatly was a leading member. 
Elections of that year for a constituent assembly put the National 
Bloc in power, and Hannanu set out to write a constitution. It 
provided for the reunification of Syria and ignored the authority 
of the French. In 1930 the French imposed the constitution minus 
articles that would have given Syria unified self-government. 


The rolling countryside of Al Ladhiqiyah Province, 
home to many of Syria's Alawis 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

Syrian nationalists continued to assert that they at least should 
have a treaty with France setting forth French aims, since Britain 
and Iraq had signed such a treaty in 1922. Unrest after the death 
of the nationalist leader Hannanu at the end of 1935, followed by 
a general strike in 1936, brought new negotiations for such a treaty. 
Under Leon Blum's liberal-socialist government in France, the two 
countries worked out the Syrian-French Treaty of Alliance in 1936. 
The French parliament never ratified the treaty, yet a feeling of 
optimism prevailed in Syria as the first nationalist government came 
to power with Atassi as president. 

During 1937 Syria's drive for independence seemed to be 
advancing under National Bloc leadership. France allowed the 
return of the Jabal Druze and Latakia to the Syrian state and turned 
over many local government functions to the Syrian government. 
French administration during the previous years had given some 
advantages to the Syrians. It had built modern cities in Damascus 
and Aleppo and roads and schools throughout much of the coun- 
try; and it had partially trained some Syrians as minor bureaucrats. 
French cultural influence spread in the schools, in the press, and 
even in the style of dress; social and economic conditions slowly 


Syria: A Country Study 

Under the French, Syria became a refuge for persecuted groups 
from neighboring countries. Most of the Kurdish population arrived 
between 1924 and 1938, fleeing Kemalist rule in Turkey. The major 
immigration of Armenians occurred between 1925 and 1945 as a 
result of similar persecution. Assyrians, under attack in Iraq in 
1933, settled in eastern Syria (see Kurds; Armenians; Others, ch. 2). 

Although the country appeared to be on the verge of peace, true 
calm evaded Syria. Claims by Turkey to Alexandretta, Arab revolts 
in Palestine, an economic crisis caused by depreciation of the French 
franc, and lack of unity among Syrians served to undermine the 
stability of the Syrian government. The National Bloc was split 
by rivalries. Abdul Rahman Shahabandar, a leading nationalist, 
formed a rival organization in 1939 to compete for Syrian politi- 
cal leadership, but he was assassinated a year later. Separatist move- 
ments in the Jabal Druze found French support and antagonized 
the nationalists. 

During the course of the Syrian-French treaty discussions in 1936, 
Turkey had asked for reconsideration of the situation in Hatay — 
at that time the Syrian province of Alexandretta — which had a large 
Turkish minority and already had been given a special adminis- 
trative system under the Franco-Turkish Agreement of Ankara 
(sometimes called the Franklin-Bouillon Agreement) in 1921. The 
case was submitted to the League of Nations, which in 1937 decided 
that Alexandretta should be a separate, self-governing political state. 
Direct negotiations between Turkey and France ended on July 13, 
1939, with France agreeing to absorption of Alexandretta by Tur- 
key. Disturbances broke out in Syria against France and the Syrian 
government, which Syrian nationalist leaders felt had not adequately 
defended their interests. Syrian president Atassi resigned, parlia- 
mentary institutions were abolished, and France governed an unruly 
Syria through the Council of Directors. Latakia and the Jabal Druze 
were again set up as separate units. The French government offi- 
cially declared it would not submit the Syrian-French treaty to the 
French Chamber of Deputies for ratification. 

World War II and Independence 

The capitulation of France in June 1940 brought Vichy-appointed 
General Henri Dentz as high commissioner and a new cabinet 
headed by Khalid al Azm, a wealthy landlord from an old Damas- 
cus family who was to play a leading role in Syrian politics twenty- 
two years later. Despite continued German military successes 
elsewhere, British and Free French forces supported by troops of 
the Transjordan Arab Legion defeated the Vichy forces in both 
Syria and Lebanon. Control then passed to Free French authorities. 


A view of Damascus 

The entry of Allied troops brought a promise from the Free 
French leader, General Charles de Gaulle, of eventual indepen- 
dence, although de Gaulle declared that so far as he was concerned, 
the mandate would remain in existence until a new French govern- 
ment legally brought it to an end. When the Syrians elected a new 
parliament in 1943 with the National Bloc in control, the parlia- 
ment elected Quwatly as president of Syria. 

During 1944 the Syrian government took over the functions of 
fourteen administrative departments that had been under direct 
French control since 1920. These included those dealing with cus- 
toms, social affairs, excise taxes, control of concessionary compa- 
nies, and supervision of tribes. France retained control of social, 
cultural, and educational services as well as the Troupes Speciales 
du Levant (Levantine Special Forces), which were used for secu- 
rity purposes. Despite French opposition, the Soviet Union in July 
and the United States in September 1944 granted Syria and 
Lebanon unconditional recognition as sovereign states; British 
recognition followed a year later. These Allied nations pressured 
France to evacuate Syria. 

The new Syrian government demanded either the immediate 
and unconditional transfer of the Troupes Speciales du Levant to 
Syrian control or their disbandment and threatened to form a 
national army unless such action were taken. But France made 
withdrawal of the troops dependent on Syria's signing a treaty 


Syria: A Country Study 

giving France a privileged position in the country. 

In January 1945, the Syrian government announced the forma- 
tion of a national army and in February declared war on the Axis 
powers. In March the nation became a charter member of the 
United Nations (UN), an indication of its sovereign status, and, 
in April, affirmed its allegiance to the idea of Arab unity by sign- 
ing the pact of the League of Arab States (Arab League). 

The way in which the French left Syria, however, increased the 
already bitter feelings the Syrians had toward France. France was 
adamant in its demand that its cultural, economic, and strategic 
interests be protected by treaty before agreeing to withdraw the 
Troupes Speciales du Levant. In May 1945, demonstrations 
occurred in Damascus and Aleppo and, for the third time in twenty 
years, the French bombed and machine-gunned the ancient capi- 
tal. Serious fighting broke out in Horns and Hamah as well. Only 
after Britain's prime minister Winston Churchill threatened to send 
troops to Damascus did General de Gaulle order a cease-fire. A 
UN resolution in February 1946 called on France to evacuate. The 
French acceded and, by April 15, 1946, all French troops were off 
Syrian soil. On April 17, Syria celebrated Evacuation Day; the 
date is a national holiday. 

After Independence 

The legacy of ancient Syria, the Arab empire, Ottoman rule, 
and the French Mandate left the people of Syria with loyalties to 
both their own nation and their neighbors. During the period 
of the French Mandate, Syria's leaders — though often competing 
with each other for power — were generally united in their single 
goal of freedom from French rule. Conflicts between diverse groups 
were postponed, as Syrian unity was essential for the independence 

When the French departed, however, unity among the leaders 
disappeared. Aleppines contested with Damascenes for dominance 
in commercial and political life; the Druzes pledged allegiance to 
Druzes, the Kurds to Kurds, and tribal peoples to tribal institu- 
tions. Alawis, the poorest yet largest of the minorities, tried to rebel 
from Sunni Muslim control. Rural leaders contended with urban 
leaders; the progressive, increasingly secularized, younger gener- 
ation vied with the older, religious-minded leaders. Politicians 
differed over the kind of government Syria should have— monarchy 
or republic, parliamentary or presidential democracy. 

Although most leaders agreed that the Syria they inherited was 
merely a part of a larger Arab nation, they disagreed on the form 
such a nation should take. Trade-minded Aleppines preferred Iraq 


Historical Setting 

and the Hashimites, as did some of the older leaders who had joined 
Faysal in 1918. Young, educated Damascenes rejected the Hashi- 
mites, who they felt were backed by the British. The cultural 
heritage of France and the American ideals of democracy induced 
many Syrians to look westward for friendship. Others looked north- 
ward to the Soviet Union, which from the Syrian point of view 
had no record of intrigue in the Arab world. 

Syria began its independent life under the presidency of Quwatly, 
backed by a splintered parliament without real leadership. The 
nation's first crisis was the independence of Israel, fruit of the Bal- 
four Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In May 1948, 
Syrian troops invaded Israel in conjunction with other Arab armies. 

Toward the end of 1948, Syrian politicians became profoundly 
disappointed with their government's failure not only to defeat Israel 
but also to regain the former province of Alexandretta, to free 
blocked assets in France, and to maintain an independent currency. 
Prime Minister Azm tried to cut army expenditures, find backing 
for the Syrian pound, and construct a new pipeline from Iraq to 
the Syrian coast. He failed in all of these efforts. 

The year 1949 was one of dramatic instability for Syria. On 
March 30, Brigadier General Husni az Zaim, army chief of staff, 
staged the first of Syria's numerous coups. He was cheered by the 
political opposition and the urban masses who were tired of high 
prices and an inept bureaucracy. Zaim, first backed by the British 
and then by the French, was recognized by Arab and Western 
governments and was elected president of Syria after abolishing 
political parties and proposing himself as the only candidate. He 
ratified an agreement with the Trans- Arabian Pipeline Company 
(Tapline) and declared himself ready to support a Middle Eastern- 
North Atlantic Treaty Organization if the United States would give 
economic support to the area. 

Although Zaim was deposed less than five months later in a coun- 
tercoup, his brief whirlwind rule was crowded with constructive 
action as well as oppressive measures. His achievements included 
the start of construction on the Euphrates River project to bring 
water to Aleppo; initiation of the Latakia harbor project; building 
of new roads and hospitals; framing of new civil laws, commercial 
laws, and penal codes; granting of suffrage to women and aboli- 
tion of private waqfs (charitable religious endowments). But Zaim's 
personal ambition depleted the treasury and lost him political 

Syria's second coup was led by Brigadier General Sami al Hin- 
nawi, who arrested Zaim and Prime Minister Muhsin al Barazi 
on August 14, 1949. After a trial before the Council of War, both 


Syria: A Country Study 

were executed. Under the provisional government of Atassi, a new 
electoral law was adopted, and women voted for the first time in 
the election of November 15-16, 1949. Although Hinnawi's coup 
returned Syrian government to civilian politicians, the army 
remained watchful in the background. 

Shishakli Dictatorship 

On December 19, 1949, army leadership changed hands when 
Colonel Adib Shishakli arrested Hinnawi and accused him of con- 
spiring with a foreign power — Iraq — against Syrian interests. While 
the army waited, civilian politicians tried to stabilize the govern- 
ment, and on September 4, 1950, the Constituent Assembly 
approved a new constitution and reconstructed itself as the Chamber 
of Deputies. But the leaderless civilians were unable to maintain 
authority. Inflation produced dissatisfaction in the cities, and hoard- 
ing, unemployment, and rioting followed. An economic dispute 
with the Lebanese, who were opposed to Syria's protective tariffs 
policy, led to the breaking of the seven-year-old economic agree- 
ment between the countries. Increasing opposition to army influ- 
ence — Shishakli demanded that the minister of defense be his 
specially selected follower, Major General Fawzi Silu — forced 
Shishakli's hand. On November 28, 1951, he arrested the cabinet 
ministers and appointed Silu prime minister. From that point on, 
Shishakli exercised blatant dictatorial control, tightening his hold 
over the civil service and the courts and legislating by decree. On 
April 6, 1952, he abolished all political parties and tried to fill the 
vacuum by creating his own party — the Arab Liberation Move- 
ment (ALM). 

In a July 1953 referendum, Syrians approved a new constitu- 
tion, making Syria a presidential republic with Shishakli as presi- 
dent. The subsequent Chamber of Deputies was packed with ALM 
deputies, the other parties having boycotted the election. 

Signs that Shishakli's regime would collapse appeared at the end 
of 1953 with student strikes and the circulation of unusually viru- 
lent pamphlets urging sedition. The major political parties, meet- 
ing at Horns in September, agreed to resist and overthrow Shishakli. 
Trouble developed among the Druzes, and Shishakli declared mar- 
tial law. The army, infiltrated by Shishakli's opponents, staged 
Syria's fourth coup, on February 25, 1954, and restored the 1949 

Radical Political Influence 

The ouster of Shishakli brought out once more the conflicts 
among the diverse political elements of the country. Cabinet 


Historical Setting 

succeeded cabinet as shifting coalitions of conservatives on the one 
hand and left-wing socialists on the other hand vied for supremacy. 
By 1955 the balance began to swing in favor of left-wing elements, 
notably the Baath Party and the Syrian Communist Party, the only 
parties in Syria with effective organizations and definite platforms 
and the only ones not based on sectarian interests. Their platforms 
coincided on some issues, and they sometimes cooperated in achiev- 
ing their goals: economic and political reform aimed at dislodging 
the ineffective entrenched leadership that was at once quasi-feudal, 
mercantile, and Western connected; Arab unity; and close coopera- 
tion with the Soviets to counter alleged Western designs on the Arab 

Anti-Western sentiment had been ever-present in independent 
Syria, resulting from deep disappointment over perceived British 
betrayal at Versailles and resentment of French policies under the 
mandate. It had reached a high pitch after the creation of Israel, 
considered another example of Western connivance against the 
Arabs, but was subdued by the pro-Western Shishakli. In 1955 
it was vocal again under the stimulation of local politicians and 
Soviet propaganda. The British-French-Israeli invasion of the Sinai 
in late 1956 gave it additional impetus. 

The gradual ascendance to power of left-wing radicals brought 
close relations with the Soviet Union and other communist coun- 
tries. Several barter agreements were signed between 1954 and 
1956; cultural agreements were concluded, missions were 
exchanged, and an arms deal was signed in 1956. At the same time, 
Syria became increasingly isolated from its Arab neighbors. 

During 1957 the conservatives were virtually eliminated as a 
political factor. In May they suffered a crushing defeat in by- 
elections after four traditionally conservative representatives were 
convicted of conspiracy. Later that year, conservatives failed in 
an effort to form an effective coalition in parliament to counter the 
radicals, and conservative and moderate army officers failed to dis- 
lodge known Communists from strategic posts in the army. By the 
end of 1957, Baathists, with their Communist and other left-wing 
allies, were in control of the government. 

The success of the radicals in gaining control resulted largely 
from close cooperation between the Baathists and the Communists. 
The Communists had been growing rapidly in number and strength 
as popularity of the East and dislike of the West grew, and, by 
the end of 1957, they threatened Baathist domination of the radi- 
cal alliance. Moderates in Syria and abroad feared an imminent 
Communist takeover. The Baathists became alarmed when a new 
radical party was formed to counter their influence and to cooperate 


A Country Study 

with the Communists. The last months of 1957 saw a fierce behind- 
the-scenes struggle for supremacy within the radical camp. 

United Arab Republic 

Seeing no way to preserve its position through domestic maneu- 
vering, the government turned to Egypt's president Nasser for help. 
Discussions about a union between Syria and Egypt had been held 
in 1956 but had been interrupted by the Suez crisis. The subject 
was brought up again in December 1957, when the Baath Party 
announced that it was drafting a bill for union with Egypt. Although 
the Baath Party knew that Nasser's declared hostility to political par- 
ties would mean the end of its legal existence, it calculated that the 
group most affected would be the Communists, whose counterparts 
in Egypt were being ruthlessly persecuted. The Baathists expected 
Nasser to dissolve all parties but envisaged a special role for them- 
selves in the new state because of their continued support of Nasser 
and their identification with his views. For his part, Nasser was reluc- 
tant to burden himself with a troubled Syria and agreed to the union 
only after a Syrian delegation convinced him of the seriousness of 
the communist threat. The union of Syria and Egypt in the United 
Arab Republic (UAR) was announced on February 1, 1958, and 
later ratified by a plebiscite in each country. 

The form in which the UAR emerged was not what the Baathists 
had envisioned. One of Nasser's conditions for union was that the 
two countries be completely integrated, not just federated as the Syri- 
ans proposed, and Syria soon found itself dominated by the stronger, 
more efficient Egypt. The Provisional Constitution of 1958 called 
for a unitary cabinet and a 600-member assembly, composed of 400 
Egyptians and 200 Syrians, half of the members being drawn from 
the then-existing national assemblies. Syria and Egypt were desig- 
nated regions of the UAR, each headed by an appointed executive 
council. Nasser was unanimously chosen president of the republic, 
and two of the four vice presidents were Syrians, one of them Akram 
Hawrani, leader of the Baath Party. The first cabinet included four- 
teen Syrians out of thirty-four members, all of them leading politi- 
cians and military figures whom Nasser wanted removed from their 
bases of power. As expected, all political parties were dissolved; but 
the Baathists did not find themselves in the favored position they 
expected. The UAR was completely run by Nasser. 

Although a number of nationalization and land reform measures 
had been implemented in Syria, Nasser felt that socialist reform and 
integration with Egypt were moving too slowly and, in October 1959, 
appointed Egyptian vice president Abdul Hakim Amir to super- 
vise policy in Syria. The Syrians, however, were increasingly 


The Euphrates Dam, partially financed by the Soviet Union 
and built with Soviet technical assistance 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

dissatisfied with Egypt's domination. Egyptians took over a large 
number of the important administrative posts in Syria, and Syrian 
army officers were transferred to Egypt while Egyptians took posts 
in Syria. Growing political unrest in Syria was exacerbated by an 
economic crisis brought about by prolonged drought. Nasser made 
little apparent effort to placate Syrian dissatisfaction and continued 
with his planned integration of the UAR. On September 28, 1961 , 
a military coup was staged in Damascus, and Syria seceded from 
the UAR. 

Coups and Countercoups, 1961-70 

The military coup again brought out all the competing factions 
and interest groups. In December 1961, all political groups except 
the Communists and pro-Nasser factions participated in a general 
election for a constituent assembly. Although party labels were not 
used, only a few known Baathists were elected to an assembly domi- 
nated by moderates and conservatives. 

The new assembly elected Nazim al Qudsi president of the repub- 
lic, and he in turn named a conservative, Maruf Dawalibi, prime 
minister. In January 1962, the assembly repealed major sections 
of a July 1961 decree that had nationalized various industrial and 
commercial firms, and, in February, it amended in favor of the 


A Country Study 

landlords the land-reform measures that had been implemented 
during the period of union. 

The new government succeeded in pleasing few and alienating 
many, and, on March 28, 1962, there was another military coup. 
President Qudsi resigned, as did the prime minister and the cabi- 
net, and the executive and legislative functions of the government 
were taken over by an organization called the General Command 
of the Army and Armed Forces. Demonstrations against this new 
coup broke out in several of the major cities, and, on April 5, the 
seven military officers who had organized and implemented the 
coup were sent into exile by other military leaders. On April 10, 
Qudsi resumed the presidency. 

The events between April and September were confusing. 
According to some factions, the assembly had been dissolved; other 
groups contended that the assembly had voluntarily resigned; and 
still others asserted that the assembly continued to exist although 
it was not allowed to meet. A new prime minister formed a govern- 
ment that restored several of the socialist measures of the UAR 
period but banned all political parties. 

By early September 1962 clashes between pro-Nasser and anti- 
Nasser elements had become more violent and more frequent, as 
had the student demonstrations and terrorist bombings. On Sep- 
tember 13, President Qudsi appointed Azm as the new prime 
minister and allowed the National Assembly, supposedly defunct, 
to convene at his residence. In its single session, the assembly con- 
firmed Azm's appointment and approved three seemingly con- 
tradictory measures: first, the reinstated Constituent Assembly was 
to be called the Constitutional Assembly; second, the government 
could legislate in the absence of the assembly; and, third, the govern- 
ment was granted the authority to dissolve the assembly with the 
understanding that new elections would be held within one year. 
On September 20 the assembly was again dissolved. 

Although Azm included representatives of all political factions ex- 
cept the extreme pro-Nasser group in this cabinet, he was unable 
to govern effectively, and, by early 1963, four of the seven military 
officers who had been exiled after their successful coup in March 1962 
made another coup attempt. This time they were unsuccessful, and 
they again went into exile. Their abortive coup was poorly planned 
and elicited no discernible support from the military, but in Febru- 
ary, the government attempted to purge the army of an estimated 
120 officers who were believed to pose a threat. On March 8, there 
was yet another coup by the military, and on March 9, Salah ad 
Din al Bitar, who with Michel Aflaq had founded the Baath Party 
in the 1940s, became prime minister for the first of several times. 


Historical Setting 

Bitar included five pro-Nasserites in his cabinet, but in early May 
these five ministers were forced to resign, and 47 officers and 1 ,000 
noncommissioned officers who were believed to be pro-Nasser were 
forced out of the army. On May 11, Bitar resigned, but a week 
later, he returned to form a new government. During May and 
June 1963, the situation continued to be confused, and July 17-18, 
an estimated 2,000 Nasserites attempted a coup. The fighting was 
intense for a few hours in Damascus, but the coup was crushed. 
Major General Amin al Hafiz— a Sunni Baathist army officer who 
had risen with the neo-Baathists — emerged as the strongman, serv- 
ing as commander in chief of the armed forces, president of the 
National Council of the Revolutionary Command (subsequently 
known as the National Council of the Revolution — NCR), deputy 
prime minister, minister of defense, minister of the interior, and 
deputy military governor. On August 4, Bitar formed another 
government, his third in six months. 

The attempted coup marked a turning point in the country's 
domestic affairs. It was the first time that a coup or coup attempt 
had resulted in widespread violence and loss of life. On July 19, 
eight army officers and twelve civilians were convicted in summary 
trials before revolutionary security courts and were executed by 
firing squads the same day. This pattern of violence was to be 
repeated by the Baathists in seizing and retaining power. 

On November 11, 1963, Bitar again resigned, and Hafiz became 
prime minister, retaining as well the other posts he previously held. 
By April 1964, urban unrest had again become serious. In Hamah, 
for example, the military measures taken to suppress the uprisings 
resulted in what Hafiz described as "frightful carnage." On May 
14, Hafiz resigned as prime minister but retained his other posts, 
and Bitar formed another government. 

Between May 1964 and February 1966, there were frequent 
changes of government, reflecting the contest for power between 
the centrist and leftist wings of the Baath Party. The occasional 
urban and town riots, student disorders, and pro-Nasser demon- 
strations were sternly repressed. During this period, Hafiz con- 
tinued to dominate the public scene, but two other Baathist generals, 
both Alawis, began to exercise decisive power. On February 23, 
1966, these two generals, Salah al Jadid and Hafiz al Assad, joined 
Nureddin Atassi in a coup that placed the more extremist wing 
of the Baath Party in power. 

Neo-Baath Dominance, 1963-66 

During the period of union with Egypt, the first stimulus for 
revival of the Syrian Baath Party came from a group of Syrian 


A Country Study 

officers stationed in Egypt who styled themselves the Military Com- 
mittee. This committee at one time or another included a Sunni, 
Amin al Hafiz; a Druze, Hamad Ubayd; and two Alawis, Muham- 
mad Umran and Jadid. After the secession from the UAR in 1961 , 
the Syrian Baath Party was formally reestablished at a party con- 
gress in May 1962. At this time, Hawrani was dismissed from the 
party on doctrinal grounds for opposing Arab unity. After the coup, 
these Baathist associates progressively moved to displace the coup 
leaders from the senior positions in the army and the newly formed, 
self-appointed, and largely anonymous National Council of the 
Revolutionary Command. It was with this body that effective power 
rested and not with Bitar's cabinet, as was clearly demonstrated 
in the provisional constitution decreed on March 24, 1963, and 
in its replacement promulgated on April 25, 1964. 

The coming to power of the Baath Party in 1963 is sometimes 
referred to as the Baath Revolution, though the March 8 coup was 
not executed by the Baathists and did not actually initiate the great 
social revolution postulated in Baathist ideology. In any case, the 
party was supreme, but factionalism continued within the Baathist 

Five major centers of power existed in Syria. The National Coun- 
cil of the Revolutionary Command, preeminent in 1963, was 
changed by the Constitution of 1964 into the NCR, was enlarged 
in membership, and became an appointed legislative body. Highest 
authority was vested in the five-man Presidency Council elected 
from its membership. Other power centers included the Ministry 
of Defense and the top army command echelon, the government 
structure of prime minister and cabinet, and the Baath Party's 
Regional Command and National Command. The dominant clique 
at any time had representation in all of them; many officials held 
multiple offices with positions in two or more power centers; and 
top-level coordination of the centers was accomplished, in effect, 
by an interlocking directorate. 

Broad factional differences developed between pan-Arab nation- 
alist adherents to the old-guard Baath leadership of Aflaq and Bitar 
on the one hand and those who became known as regionalists, 
emphasizing Syria first, on the other hand. A principal area of con- 
tention was their attitudes toward Arab unity, specifically toward 
some kind of reunion with Egypt or union with Iraq or both. 

Aflaq' s nationalists varied from strong to moderate in their sup- 
port of union, although they wanted it on their own terms and at 
a rapid rate, as a high priority. In contrast, the regionalists, while 
giving lip service to unity, varied from weak moderates favoring 
a go-slow approach to opponents of union. In the regionalist camp 


Historical Setting 

were the rising Alawi Baath officers Jadid, Assad, and Umran. 

The neo-Baathists as a whole believed that the nationalization 
and land reform measures started under Nasser but reversed dur- 
ing the conservative interregnum of September 1961 to March 1963 
should be restored. The question centered on the rate of move- 
ment toward socialism. Aflaq's adherents favored a moderate, slow 
approach, whereas the regionalists tended to favor extensive mea- 
sures quickly carried out. The regionalists became known as radi- 
cals, the radical wing, or "the extremists." They also inclined to 
the establishment of closer, more exclusive ties with the Soviet 
Union than the old guard, which viewed an exclusive Soviet posi- 
tion of influence as nothing but a new form of imperialism. 

Discussions with President Nasser in Cairo resulted on April 17, 
1963, in a statement of intent to form a union of Syria, Egypt, 
and Iraq. This venture, however, collapsed by July 22. In Syria 
a major pro-Nasserite military coup attempt in early July was put 
down with severity by Hafiz, the minister of the interior and mili- 
tary governor. This coup attempt served thereafter to justify Baathist 
monopolization of power; it confirmed the change in style from 
the pre- 1963 pattern of relatively bloodless coups and marked the 
advent to the top power position of Hafiz, who was to become a 
virtual dictator for the next two and one-half years. 

On July 27, 1963, Hafiz acquired the additional titles of presi- 
dent of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command, presi- 
dent of the republic, commander in chief, and minister of defense. 
He was also a member of both the Regional Command and the 
National Command of the Baath Party. In November he became 
prime minister, although from time to time he called on civilians, 
such as Bitar and Yusuf Zuayyin, to hold this post. 

From the outset, Hafiz aligned himself with Aflaq's old-guard 
civilian wing of the party, which was dominant in the National 
Command. This was to their mutual benefit, and the civilian leader- 
ship allowed the military Baathists a free hand in purging and struc- 
turing the forces into an "ideological army" (see Syrian-Israeli 
Hostility, ch. 5). Coordination between military and civilian party 
functions was restricted to the top level. This free-hand policy 
proved to be a mistake for the civilian leadership. Ties of party 
discipline with the military wing were dissolved, and an intensify- 
ing military-civilian split developed. In a reversal of positions, the 
military Baathists became sponsors of the civilian old guard, which 
then found itself in the role of junior partner. 

During party congresses from 1962 to 1964, strong bids for power 
were made by a new Marxist faction of the party, which, although 
finally overcome in party maneuvering, exerted influence and 


Syria: A Country Study 

precipitated events having lasting effects. At the congress of October 
1963, propositions evincing a new ideological tone were adopted. 
Identity with "oppressed peoples everywhere" was declared, in 
contrast to the old Baathist limitation to the Arab nation, and terms 
such as class struggle, scientific socialism, and popular struggle were 
injected. These generic Marxist phrases were not, in fact, employed 
in the sense commonly understood in Marxist dialectic but were 
considerably altered by an Arab nationalist context. Their use, 
nevertheless, indicated a left-wing drift in the Baath Party. In par- 
ticular, the notion of popular struggle was used to support the 
Maoist doctrine of the "people's war of liberation," which became 
a tenet of neo-Baathist ideology in its endorsement of the Palestin- 
ian guerrilla movements against Israel. 

The regionalist side of the political spectrum welcomed the aspects 
of the leftward drift in ideology that both mitigated the intense Arab 
unity theme of the old guard and called for a more intense com- 
mitment to nationalization and socialism. The military Baathists 
welcomed the leftist doctrinal rationale for subordinating individual 
liberties to the society as a whole. The military, however, took strong 
exception to the left wing's demand for exclusion of the military 
from politics and to personal assaults on the "rightist character" 
of many Baathist officers. 

Hafiz and the inner core of the Military Committee, along with 
Aflaq and Bitar's old guard, successfully engineered the expulsion 
of the Marxist wing from the party's Regional Command at a confer- 
ence early in February 1964 and from the National Command later 
the same month. A new fifteen-member Regional Command was 
then formed and included seven officers of the Military Committee. 

Hafiz sought to balance his position by developing support among 
different factions, even including the politically excommunicated 
Hawrani, and he made considerable use of both Alawi and Druze 
officers. In November 1963, he installed the Alawi Baathist Jadid 
in the key post of army chief of staff. Jadid emerged as a staunch 

Hafiz 's right-hand man in the Baath military-political structure 
was Umran, another Alawi but of a different tribe from that of 
Jadid, and Umran's quietly rising associate, Hafiz al Assad. By 
the end of 1964, Umran had reversed his stance on several issues, 
including the matter of Hawrani and union, and was then at odds 
with Hafiz. He was removed from party position but allowed to 
take the post of ambassador to Spain. 

At the party convention of April 1965, the military and civilian 
branches of the regional party were constitutionally merged, and 
the top post of secretary general of the Regional Command passed 


Historical Setting 

to Jadid. The contention between the older Aflaq-Bitar Baathists 
and the regionalists had long been organizationally reflected in con- 
tention between the National Command and the Regional Com- 
mand over the location of principal party power. Assumption of 
control of the Regional Command by Jadid brought to that post 
an Alawi who was a senior military officer, the strong man of the 
shadowy Military Committee, and the staunchest proponent of 
regionalist Baathism. 

The Baath Redirections of 1966 and 1970 

By the summer of 1965, Hafiz began seeking to limit the influence 
of the Alawis and Druzes. His own political orientation had begun 
to shift toward compromise, moderation, union, and the slowing 
down of socialism. In September 1965, he removed Jadid from the 
post of army chief of staff, but the latter entrenched himself in his 
party position as secretary general of the Regional Command. On 
December 21 , 1965, the National Command dissolved the Regional 
Command and removed Jadid' s three supporters from the five- 
man Presidency Council. 

At the same time, Hafiz dismissed the cabinet of Prime Minister 
Zuayyin, who had become a regionalist. He then called on the 
perennial Bitar to form a new cabinet (his fifth) and recalled General 
Umran as minister of defense. On Hafiz's authority, extensive 
transfers of Jadid 's supporters in the army were planned. On Febru- 
ary 18, 1966, Aflaq condemned the Jadid faction for "degenerat- 
ing into regional separatism" and (although he himself had assisted 
the process) for the military usurpation of party and government 
power from the civilian leadership. Thus, the stage was set for a 
confrontation between the two parts of the Baath Party. 

On February 23, 1966, Jadid, the Regional Command, and their 
army units seized the government in the bloodiest of the many coups 
d'etat since 1949. The general public, however, displayed no incli- 
nation to fight for one Baathist military faction against the other. 

Hafiz, wounded in the fighting, was arrested and imprisoned; 
the old National Command was denounced and expelled; and Aflaq 
and Bitar were read out of the party. Later released, both took 
refuge in Lebanon. One of the first acts of the Regional Command 
after seizing the radio station was the announcement of the appoint- 
ment of Major General Hafiz al Assad as minister of defense. 

On March 1, 1966, a new government was formed. Jadid 
remained outside the formal structure of government, directing 
affairs through his position as party leader. So as not to appear 
as an outright military dictatorship, the regime designated promi- 
nent regionalist Baath civilians to office: Nureddin Atassi as 


A Country Study 

president of the republic; Yusuf Zuayyin again as prime minister; 
and Ibrahim Makhus as foreign minister. All were physicians and 
representatives of the urban intellectuals. The first two were Sun- 
nis; Makhus, an Alawi. In the Regional Command, the top five 
positions were held by Jadid, Atassi, Zuayyin, Makhus, and Assad, 
in that order. 

On September 8, 1966, a military countercoup attempt was led 
by a Druze, Salim Hatum, a leading partner of Jadid in the Febru- 
ary 23 coup. Although Hatum 's men actually arrested President 
Atassi, the army chief of staff Major General Ahmad Suwaydani, 
and Jadid himself, the attempt failed when Assad threatened to 
send the air force against Hatum 's forces. The Workers' Battal- 
ions, a proletarian national guard organized by Khalid al Jundi 
and influenced by the Chinese Red Guard concept, also declared 
for Jadid. Agreement was reached between the factions for an 
exchange of prisoners, and on the following morning, Hatum and 
his associates fled to Jordan. He returned to Syria in early June 
1967 to fight, he said, against Israel; he was arrested and shot. 

The traumatic defeat of the Syrians and Egyptians in the June 
1967 War with Israel discredited the radical socialist regimes of 
Nasser's Egypt and Baathist Syria. Tne Jadid faction, which 
included Atassi, Zuayyin, and Makhus, was particularly hurt. The 
defeat strengthened the hands of the moderates and the rightists 
and was the catalyst for Assad's ascent in Syria. 

In the fall of 1968, open controversy developed between Assad, 
reportedly representing a moderate faction centered in the mili- 
tary, and extremists of Jadid's civilian regime. Although Jadid 's 
power in the party remained strong, in March 1969 an ostensible 
compromise was reached between Assad and Jadid. The new 
government formed in May made minor concessions to broaden- 
ing the political base but represented no real change in domestic 
or foreign policy. The rank order in the party's hierarchy remained 
unchanged. Assad continued as minister of defense. A number of 
Syrian Communists were arrested, and their leader, Khalid 
Bakdash, again left the country. 

The conflict between the Jadid civilian wing and the Assad mili- 
tary wing of the party continued through 1970, and the govern- 
ment, although reported to be widely unpopular, remained in firm 
control of the country. From time to time, different measures bore 
the influence of the two factions. Party purges had decimated the 
air force, which suffered from a critical pilot shortage, and Assad 
succeeded in restoring to duty a number of air force pilots who 
had been retired for political reasons. The Regional Command 
headed by Jadid, rather than the Ministry of Defense, retained 


Historical Setting 

complete control of its institutionalized Palestine guerrilla force, 
As Saiqa (The Thunderbolt) (see Special and Irregular Armed 
Forces, ch. 5). 

In its radical revolutionary role, the regime proclaimed support 
for the guerrilla movements but, while polemically assailing Jor- 
dan and Lebanon for their efforts to control Palestinian guerrillas 
in their territories, did not hesitate to control the guerrillas in Syria. 
As Saiqa was not allowed to launch operations from Syrian soil 
against Israel because of the danger of reprisal, but it was frequently 
used within Syria for party security purposes. 

In inter- Arab affairs, the Jadid and Assad factions largely negated 
one another. Syria remained at odds with most Arab states, espe- 
cially Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. 

In September 1970, the Jordanian Army launched attacks on 
PLO camps and on Palestinian refugee camps that were under the 
control of PLO units; most were in the vicinity of Amman. King 
Hussein of Jordan ordered the assaults in response to efforts by 
the PLO to implement its avowed policy of deposing Hussein and 
other Arab monarchs. The hostilities in Jordan — which became 
known by the PLO and its supporters as Black September — had 
a profound impact on the Arab world and particularly on the 
government in Syria. 

During the civil war, which lasted 10 days, Syria sent some 200 
tanks (nominally of the Palestine Liberation Army — PLA) to aid 
the PLO forces. Iraq, Syria's Baathist rival, had a force of about 
12,000 men stationed near Az Zarqa northeast of Amman; these 
troops did not participate in the fighting and withdrew to Iraq a 
few days later. The United States dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the 
eastern Mediterranean, and the Israeli Air Force openly assumed 
a posture of military preparedness. Most important, the Syrian air 
force refused to provide air cover to the Syrian tank brigade, which 
came under severe attacks first by the Jordanian Air Force and 
then by the Jordanian Army. On September 23 and 24, the Syrian 
expeditionary force withdrew from the battle zone and returned 
to Syria. 

Syria's military fiasco in Jordan reflected political disagreement 
within the ruling Baath leadership. The Jadid faction argued for 
full support of and participation with the PLO in Jordan; Assad 
and his associates opposed such action. For a variety of reasons, 
not the least of which was fear of a devastating Israeli reprisal, Assad 
refused to commit his air force to support the tank units. Jadid 
and his supporters were militarily and politically humiliated. 

The Baath Party's tenth congress, held in Damascus, lasted two 
weeks and ended November 12, 1970. This conference, labeled 


Syria: A Country Study 

an extraordinary session of the National Command, underscored 
Jadid 's continuing control of the party apparatus. It adopted reso- 
lutions reaffirming the government's position in internal and for- 
eign affairs and censuring Assad and his chief of staff, Major 
General Mustafa Tlas, on the grounds of improper military 
influence in the government. 

On November 13, 1970, army units arrested Jadid, Atassi, and 
Zuayyin along with several others and seized the centers of com- 
munication without effective opposition. Although a few minor 
demonstrations occurred, the overthrow was virtually bloodless. 
Jadid was detained under guard; Atassi, in house arrest. The others 
were soon released. 

On November 16, the Regional Command of the Baath Party 
issued a statement saying that the change that had occurred was 
a transfer of power within the party showing that the party's 
progressive rank and file were stronger than the misdirected forces 
of dictators. A new party congress was to be convened to reorganize 
the party; a national front government was to be organized under 
revised Baathist leadership; and a people's council, or legislature, 
was to be formed within three months. Continued support for the 
Palestinian cause was affirmed. 

On November 19, 1970, the Regional Command announced the 
designation of Ahmad al Khatib, a respected but hitherto little- 
known politician, as acting chief of state and of Lieutenant General 
Assad as prime minister and minister of defense. Assad then formed 
a twenty-six-member cabinet, consisting of about one-half Assad 
Baathists and the balance scattered among Socialists, Nasserites, 
independents, and Communists. This cabinet met for the first time 
on November 23, 1970. In a press interview, Assad claimed that 
the change in government had been neither a coup nor the result 
of political conflict along the lines of military-civilian division but 
a natural development in the party's revolutionary movement, often 
referred to as the "Corrective Movement." 

The Assad Era 

Soon after taking power, Assad moved quickly to create an 
organizational infrastructure for the government. In February 1971, 
the 173-member People's Council was organized, the Baath Party 
taking 87 seats; the remaining seats were divided among the "popu- 
lar organizations" and other minor parties. In March 1971, the 
Baath Party held its regional congress and elected the twenty-one- 
member Regional Command headed by Assad. That same month, 
by a national referendum, Assad was elected president for a seven- 
year term, and in April, Major Abdul Rahman Khulayfawi was 


Historical Setting 

designated prime minister with Mahmud al Ayyubi as vice presi- 
dent. The transfer of power from Jadid to Assad was widely 
regarded as a conservative and moderating movement away from 
communist radicalism. 

In foreign affairs, Syria's relations with the Soviet Union, strained 
toward the end of 1970, improved dramatically in 1971 and 1972. 
Syria's relations with other Arab states, particularly Egypt and 
Libya, became more cordial, as demonstrated by the April 1971 
formation of the short-lived Federation of Arab Republics, made 
up of Syria, Egypt, and Libya. 

In March 1972, the Progressive National Front was formed. It 
consisted of the Baath Party and four non-Baathist groups: the 
Syrian Arab Socialist Union, a Nasserite group under Jamal Atassi; 
the Socialist Union Movement under Jamal Sufi; the Arab Socialist 
Party, composed of the followers of the Baathist Akram Hawrani; 
and the Syrian Communist Party under Khalid Bakdash. 

In March 1973, the Permanent Constitution went into effect, 
further strengthening Assad's already formidable presidential 
authority. However, the Assad regime was not without underly- 
ing tension. This tension stemmed from sectarian differences 
between the majority Sunni Muslims and the minority Alawis; but 
it had much wider implications, not the least of which were politi- 
cal. The immediate focus of the opposition to the regime was the 
demand by Sunni Muslims that Islam be declared the state religion 
in the constitution. The draft constitution that was adopted by the 
People's Council at the end of January 1973 had no provision to 
that effect. Viewing the constitution as the product of an Alawi- 
dominated, secular, Baathist ruling elite, Sunni militants staged 
a series of riots in February 1973 in conservative and predominantly 
Sunni cities such as Hamah and Horns. A number of demonstra- 
tors were killed or wounded in clashes between the troops and 

As a result of these demonstrations, the Assad regime had the 
draft charter amended to include a provision that the president of 
Syria must be a Muslim. Implicit in this amendment was a decla- 
ration that Alawis are Muslims — a formula not accepted by many 
Sunni Muslims. The draft was approved in a popular referendum 
held in mid-March for formal promulgation. Assad's compromise, 
coupled with the government's effective security measures, calmed 
the situation, but sporadic demonstrations continued through April 

Other major developments in 1973 included the holding in March 
of parliamentary elections for the People's Council, the first since 
1962, and the Syrian- Egyptian war against Israel in October. Syrian 


Syria: A Country Study 

forces acquitted themselves better against the Israeli forces in the 
October 1973 War than in the 1967 one; in fact, the war was widely 
regarded in Syria as a ' 'victory' ' and helped to boost Syrian morale 
substantially. Moreover, in 1974, as a result of the disengagement 
agreement, Syria recovered parts of the Golan Heights it initially 
had lost to Israel. 

In foreign affairs, the Assad regime charted a pragmatic and 
increasingly independent course. It maintained close ties with the 
Soviet Union and East European states, ensuring a sustained flow 
of Soviet military aid, especially after the October 1973 War. At 
the same time, Assad moved to improve Syrian relations with Jor- 
dan and with the United States and other Western nations. 

In May 1973, diplomatic relations with Britain, severed in 1967, 
were fully restored. Relations with the United States, also severed 
in 1967, were normalized in June 1974. Two months later, diplo- 
matic ties with the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) 
were resumed after having been severed in 1965, when the West 
German government exchanged ambassadors with Israel. Mean- 
while, relations with Jordan grew progressively more cordial, so 
that in August 1975 Syria and Jordan announced the establish- 
ment of a joint supreme command to direct political and military 
action against Israel. 

Perhaps the severest test of the Assad regime came in the latter 
half of the 1970s as a result of Syrian intervention in the Lebanese 
Civil War. During 1976 Assad was firmly resolved to stabilize the 
volatile Lebanese situation by providing troops, first unilaterally 
and later as part of the Lebanese-based peacekeeping Arab Deter- 
rent Force (ADF). The Syrian intervention, in effect on the side 
of the Lebanese Christian right against the Palestinians and the 
Muslim left, tended to aggravate relations with other Arab coun- 
tries, Egypt and Iraq in particular. In addition, the intervention 
in Lebanon was economically costly for Syria and not popular 
domestically, and a cease-fire was arranged in October 1976. Even 
so, in early 1987, Syrian troops still controlled large portions of 
eastern Lebanon. 

Domestically, Assad's supremacy remained unassailable. He 
brooked no opposition, and his control of the Baath Party and the 
military and security organizations was complete. All political 
activities continued to be closely monitored by the party and a mul- 
tiplicity of intelligence and security forces (see Civil Police and 
Internal Security Apparatus, ch. 5). The regime did not rely primar- 
ily on coercion, however; the Baath Party sought, with mixed 
results, to evolve into a truly mass-based organization. The peas- 
ants, workers, and revolutionary intellectuals continued to receive 


A devastated street in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War 

Courtesy As' ad AbuKhalil 

much rhetorical attention, and the party's high command continued 
to explore the relative merits of socialism for the Syrian economy. 

The regime's responsiveness to public opinion after 1976 appar- 
ently was prompted by three factors: first, renewed concern about 
the persistence of sectarian tensions; second, an economic slow- 
down stemming from the burden of military intervention in 
Lebanon as well as the considerable decline and uncertainty of for- 
eign aid from other Arab oil states; and, finally, signs of corrup- 
tion in the higher echelons of the government and state-run 
economic enterprises. In August 1976, official concern was mani- 
fested when Prime Minister Mahmud al Ayyubi was replaced by 
Abdul Rahman Khulayfawi, a Sunni who formerly headed the cabi- 
net (1971-72) and who was also highly popular among army officers 
for his honesty and thoroughness. 

A major test of the regime's popularity came in August 1977, 
when Syrians went to the polls to elect the People's Council for 
a four-year term (1977-81). Election results gave cause for con- 
cern; the voter turnout was dismally low even by Syrian standards. 
It was estimated to range from 4 to 6 percent of the 4 million eligi- 
ble voters, even though the polls were kept open an extra day 
because of the low turnout. 

The election indicated the public's unhappiness with the govern- 
ment, an unhappiness that prompted Assad to institute what came 


Syria: A Country Study 

to be known as his "anticorruption campaign." To this end, the 
Committee for the Investigation of Illegal Profits was formed. Oppo- 
sition to the regime did not abate, however, and, on November 1, 
1977, Ali ibn Abid al Ali, an Alawi professor of agriculture at the 
University of Aleppo and a close friend of Assad, was assassinated. 

In February 1978, Assad was reelected for a second seven-year 
term (1978-85). However, his reelection coincided with the begin- 
ning of a period of domestic unrest. Even Assad's inner circle 
showed signs of dissolution; one of the first was the dismissal of 
Naji Jamil, who was air force commander, chief of the National 
Security Council, and deputy defense minister. His replacement 
was Brigadier General Muhammad Khawli, chief of air force 
intelligence and an Alawi. On March 30, 1978, the cabinet of 
Khulayfawi was dismissed, and Muhammad Ali al Halabi was 
asked to form a new cabinet. No significant changes were made 
in cabinet membership. 

The most important opposition groups during this period were 
Sunni Muslim organizations, whose membership was drawn from 
urban Sunni youth. The largest and most militant of these groups 
was the Muslim Brotherhood. Other organizations included the 
Aleppo-based Islamic Liberation Movement, established in 1963; 
the Islamic Liberation Party, originally established in Jordan in 
the 1950s; Muhammad's Youth; Jundallah (Soldiers of God); and 
Marwan Hadid's group, established in Hamah in 1965, often 
referred to as At Tali 'a al Muqatila (Fighting Vanguard). All, it 
is rumored, received financial assistance from private sources in 
Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf countries, and the revolutionary 
committees in Iran. It is also speculated that they received weapons 
smuggled from Iraq and Lebanon and training and assistance from 
Al Fatah of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). 

In addition to the militant Muslim opposition, there was oppo- 
sition from intellectuals and professional associations, whose pur- 
pose was not to overthrow the regime but to reform it. The first 
time such groups challenged the government was on March 31, 
1980, in Aleppo and Hamah. Additional opposition came from 
expatriate Syrian politicians, mostly Sunni Baath politicians of the 
pre- 1966 era who opposed the military and sectarian nature of the 
government and its drift away from Arab nationalist policies. The 
leader of this group was Bitar, the cofounder of the Baath Party. 

In the spring of 1980, these nonmilitant professional groups 
formed a loose alliance called the National Democratic Gathering 
and demanded freedom of the press, freedom of political action, 
promulgation of civil law with the ending of the state of emergency, 
and free parliamentary elections. The alliance had no contact with 


Historical Setting 

the Muslim Brotherhood and was considered a peaceful alterna- 
tive to it. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were a number of reli- 
giously motivated violent attacks, many instigated by the Muslim 
Brotherhood and directed at Assad's regime, members of the rul- 
ing Baath Party, and members of the Alawi religious sect. At the 
outset, rather than blaming the Muslim Brotherhood, the govern- 
ment blamed Iraq and disaffected Palestinians for these acts, and 
it retaliated by holding public hangings in September 1976 and 
June 1977. 

In the spring of 1979, the Muslim Brotherhood claimed credit 
for a series of attacks on persons, usually Alawis, and government 
and military installations. The most serious attacks occurred in June 
1979 when Muslim Brotherhood gunmen killed fifty Alawi cadets 
at the military academy in Aleppo. This clearly showed the Mus- 
lim Brotherhood's capability and determination. After this inci- 
dent, the government resolved to crush the opposition and did so 
ruthlessly. Nevertheless, support for the Muslim Brotherhood grew 
over the next two years, and operations against Syrian government 
officials and installations increased in number and severity and 
included, for the first time, attacks on Soviet military and civilian 
advisers in Syria. 

Terrorist acts by the militant Sunni Muslims during this period 
centered on urban centers such as Damascus, Hamah, Horns, and 
the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus. In March 1980, the attacks 
were directed at widespread targets, most effectively in Aleppo. 
The violence reached its height on March 5. Although Aleppo was 
the primary target, violence spread to Hamah, Horns, and Dayr 
az Zawr, where Baath Party and military installations were attacked. 
In June 1980 an attempt was made on Assad's life. 

Government security forces tried to uproot the Muslim Brother- 
hood from Hamah and Aleppo in late March and early April 1981 . 
A large-scale search operation resulted in the deaths of 200 to 300 
people and the destruction of sections of both cities. Tight security 
measures were implemented; membership in the Muslim Brother- 
hood was made a capital offense, the use of motorcycles was banned 
in some cities (they were used by the Muslim Brotherhood in hit- 
and-run attacks), and under the guise of holding a general census, 
the Ministry of the Interior ordered all citizens fourteen years of 
age and older to obtain new identity cards. In addition, a series 
of political, economic, and social measures were aimed at improv- 
ing the regime's image and gaining more popular support. 

In February 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood ambushed govern- 
ment forces who were searching for dissidents in Hamah. Several 


Syria: A Country Study 

thousand Syrian troops, supported by armor and artillery, moved 
into the city and crushed the insurgents during two weeks of 
bloodshed. When the fighting was over, perhaps as many as 10,000 
to 25,000 people lay dead, including an estimated 1,000 soldiers. 
In addition, large sections of Hamah's old city were destroyed. This 
battle led to the establishment of the National Alliance for the Liber- 
ation of Syria, which included the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic 
Front, the pro-Iraqi wing of the Baath Party, and other indepen- 
dent political figures. The destruction of Hamah and the ruthless- 
ness of Assad's measures apparently has had a chastening effect 
on Syria's estimated 30,000 Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers. 

In the 1980s, Syria continued to rely heavily on the Soviet Union, 
which resupplied the Syrian armed forces with sophisticated weap- 
ons, and with which it concluded the Treaty of Friendship and 
Cooperation on October 8, 1980. This relationship did not evolve, 
however, to either country's complete satisfaction. As of early 1987, 
Syria had not granted the Soviets permanent port facilities, and, 
although the Soviets had pledged to defend Syria if it were attacked 
by Israel, it refused to support a Syrian blitz on the Golan Heights 
(see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). 

Since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, Syria has 
aligned itself with Iran, to the chagrin of the moderate Arab coun- 
tries. Despite this alienation, Syria has been receiving generous 
amounts of financial aid from Saudi Arabia, which hopes that the 
funding will moderate Syria's radical policies. In addition, since 
1982 Syria has been receiving a substantial amount of oil from Iran 
as repayment for its support and as compensation for the closure 
of the Iraqi oil pipeline, which runs through Syria (see Foreign 
Trade, ch. 3). 

Syrian-Israeli relations were tense during the early 1980s. In 
December 1981, Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights; in June 
1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and destroyed Syrian surface-to-air 
missiles deployed in the Biqa Valley as well as about seventy-nine 
Syrian MiG-21 and MiG-23 aircraft (see Syrian-Israeli Hostility, 
ch. 5). 

In late 1986, Syria faced a multitude of domestic and foreign 
challenges, some more threatening than others. The economy, for 
example, was in steady decline as a result of, among other factors, 
a chronic balance of payments deficit, foreign exchange shortages, 
a three-year-long drought, low commodity prices, and reduced 
subsidies from other Arab states (see Growth and Structure of the 
Economy, ch. 3). Because President Assad was in uncertain health, 
aspirants appeared to be maneuvering to succeed him (see Politi- 
cal Dynamics, ch. 4). In foreign relations, Syria remained fairly 


A section of Hamah, before and after the 
devastating government assault 

isolated from other Arab states, while considerable numbers of 
Syrian troops were stationed in Lebanon, entangled in that coun- 
try's conflict (see Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, 1975-87, ch. 5). 
Furthermore, because Egypt was at peace with Israel and because 
Iran and Iraq were preoccupied with their war, Syria assumed a 
major role in the Arab-Israeli dispute; in fact, some Western 
observers openly speculated about renewed Syrian-Israeli hostili- 
ties over the Golan Heights. Meanwhile, on the basis of investiga- 
tions of incidents that had occurred in Europe, the United States 
and some West European governments were accusing the Syrian 
regime of actively supporting international terrorism (see Spon- 
sorship of Terrorism, ch. 5). Thus, in the late 1980s, serious 
uncertainty remained concerning Syria's future. 

* * * 

Scholarly works on modern Syria are relatively few, consider- 
ing the importance of the country. Much of the best material avail- 
able is in periodical literature. The single most authoritative study 
is Tabitha Petran's Syria, which offers comprehensive analyses of 


Syria: A Country Study 

the effect on Syria of its temporary union with Egypt, the develop- 
ment of the Baath revolution, and the response of Syria to its trau- 
matic 1967 defeat by the Israelis. John F. Devlin has written a work 
critical to a complete understanding of the Baath, The Ba'th Party: 
A History from Its Origins to 1966. In the same genre is Patrick Seale's 
The Struggle for Syria. A.L. Tibawi's A Modern History of Syria, Includ- 
ing Lebanon and Palestine has excellent coverage of the period from 
the Ottomans up to, but not including, the June 1967 War. John 
Bagot Glubb's Syria Lebanon Jordan is a sensitive study reflecting 
the author's knowledge of the area, gained from decades of 
experience as commander of Jordan's Arab Legion. Philip K. 
Hitti's Syria: A Short History remains the best single source for the 
ancient and medieval periods. Robin Fedden's Syria and Lebanon 
is a reflective account of his travels there, interwoven with major 
cultural themes of Syria's ancient and medieval periods. Well- 
written accounts of events that have taken place in Syria in the 
1970s and 1980s can be found in Devlin's Syria: Modern State in an 
Ancient Land and in the Middle East Contemporary Survey, edited by 
Colin Legum et al. (For further information and complete cita- 
tions, see Bibliography.) 


Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment 

A pilgrim flask found in the Antioch region, ca. A.D. 1250 

SYRIAN SOCIETY IS a mosaic of social groups of various sizes 
that lacks both a consistent stratification system linking all together 
and a set of shared values and loyalties binding the population into 
one nation. Distinctions of language, region, religion, ethnicity, 
and way of life cut across the society, producing a large number 
of separate communities, each marked by strong internal loyalty 
and solidarity. Although about two-thirds of the people are Arabic- 
speaking Sunni Muslims, they do not constitute a unitary social 
force because of the strongly felt differences among beduin, vil- 
lager, and urban dweller. A perceptive observer has spoken of the 
"empty center" of Syrian society, a society lacking an influential 
group embodying a national consensus. 

The ethnic and religious minorities, none of which amounts to 
more than 15 percent of the population, nevertheless form geo- 
graphically compact and psychologically significant blocs that func- 
tion as distinct social spheres and dominate specific regions of the 
country. Because the religious groups in each locality function as 
largely independent social universes, a "minority mentality," 
characterized by suspicion toward those of different groups, is 
widespread among both minority group members and those of the 
majority group living in minority-dominated areas where they are 
therefore outnumbered. Psychologically and politically, religious 
distinctions are by far the most significant ones. In all groups, loyalty 
to one's fellow members, rather than to a larger Syrian nation, 
is a paramount value. 

The religious communities are more than groups of co worshipers; 
they are largely self-contained social systems that regulate much 
of the daily life of their members and receive their primary loyalty. 
The independence of the religious communities is a distinctly divi- 
sive force in society. Although Islam provides the central symbolic 
and cultural orientation for about 85 percent of Syrians, minority 
communities, most with a long history in the region, maintain cul- 
tural and religious patterns outside the Muslim consensus. 

The religions, sects, and denominations differ widely in formal 
doctrine and belief. Nevertheless, there exists in Syria a stratum 
of folk belief and practice common to rural and uneducated per- 
sons of many religions. Members of various groups hold certain 
common beliefs in saints and spirits and observe related practices, 
such as exorcism and visitation of shrines, regardless of the disap- 
proval of the orthodox religious authorities. 


A Country Study 

In addition to linguistic and religious dissimilarities, three forms 
of traditional social and ecological organization further divide the 
society. Most Syrians, including many members of religious and 
ethnic minorities, inhabit rural villages and earn their living as sub- 
sistence farmers. A dwindling number live the admired nomadic 
life of the beduin, or tribesman. The remainder, including a sub- 
stantial number of recent migrants from the countryside, live in 
cities and towns, many of which date from ancient times. Each 
of these three represents a distinct, usually hereditary, way of life, 
followed by particular social groups and separated from the others 
by such social barriers as marriage restrictions, education, and 

The ascent to power of minority groups and their implementa- 
tion of Baathist policies of secularism and socialism have left most 
non-Muslims financially better off than the average Syrian, put- 
ting them in an anomalous position. On the one hand, many have 
reasserted their solidarity with Syria's opposition to Israel, the West, 
alleged imperialism, and capitalism. On the other hand, some 
observers have noted an exodus of numerous urban businessmen, 
professionals, and managers, particularly Christians and non- Arabs. 
In response, during the mid- and late 1970s, the government 
encouraged the return of these emigres and attempted to develop 
a climate more favorable to them. 

Successive Syrian regimes have attempted to consolidate a Syrian 
national identity by eliminating the centrifugal effects of sectari- 
anism. Despite these efforts, Syria's postindependence history is 
replete with conflict between minority groups and the central 

In part this conflict can be attributed to the French Mandate 
administration, from which Syria inherited a system of parliamen- 
tary representation similar to that of Lebanon, in which specific 
seats were allocated to Christians, Kurds, Druzes, Alawis, Circas- 
sians, Turkomans, and Jews. These ethnic and religious groups 
were guaranteed 35 of the parliament's 142 seats. Minority groups 
also protested what they believed to be infringement on their 
political rights and in 1950 successfully blocked efforts by the Sunni 
Muslim president to declare Islam the official state religion. A 1953 
bill finally abolished the communal system of parliamentary 
representation; subsequent legislation eliminated separate jurisdic- 
tional rights in matters of personal and legal status that the French 
had granted certain minority groups. 

The struggle to balance minority rights and Sunni Islamic major- 
ity representation remained a paramount theme in Syrian domes- 
tic affairs. In 1987 the Syrian government was dominated by 


The Society and Its Environment 

President Hafiz al Assad's Alawi minority. The secular social- 
ism of the ruling Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party 
de-emphasized Islam as a component of Syrian and Arab nation- 
alism. However, Baath ideology prescribed that non-Muslims 
respect Islam as their "national culture." 

In 1986 educational and cultural institutions remained under 
close governmental supervision. Such institutions were designed 
to further government objectives by raising the general level of edu- 
cation and literacy, strengthening awareness of Arab cultural 
achievements, building public support for official policies resting 
on the principles of the ruling Baath Party, and seeking to foster 
a sense of Syrian national unity. Public bodies serving these 
objectives multiplied during the late 1960s and by the mid-1980s 
included the ministries of education, higher education, informa- 
tion, and culture and national guidance. Their activities were com- 
plemented by several directorates, authorities, and planning boards. 
In the consolidated budget for fiscal year 1985, about LS 3.4 bil- 
lion (for value of the Syrian pound — see Glossary), or 14.5 per- 
cent of the government's expenditure, was earmarked for educa- 
tion. Despite the educational system's failure to achieve the govern- 
ment's goals, education remained an important channel of upward 
mobility for minorities. 

Geography and Population 

Throughout its history, Syria's political and economic impor- 
tance has been largely attributable to its position at the crossroads 
of three continents and several cultures. Because of its strategic 
geographic location, Syria continued to be a focus of transit trade 
among many countries of the Middle East and to be a vital factor 
in Arab politics and in Arab-Israeli hostilities. 

The area includes about 185,180 square kilometers of deserts, 
plains, and mountains. It is divided into a coastal zone — with a 
narrow, double mountain belt enclosing a depression in the west — 
and a much larger eastern plateau. The climate is predominantly 
dry; about three-fifths of the country has less than twenty-five cen- 
timeters of rain a year. Fertile land is the nation's most important 
natural resource, and efforts have been made, and in the 1980s 
were continuing, to increase the amount of arable land through 
irrigation projects (see Agriculture, ch. 3). 

In mid-1986, the population was estimated at 10.6 million, 
including beduin and Palestinian refugees, and was increasing at 
an annual rate of approximately 3.7 percent a year. The Syrian 
government encourages population increase, even though such 
increase tends to offset improvements in the national standard of 


Syria: A Country Study 

living. In the mid-1980s, double-digit inflation cut real income 
and eroded some of the gains in the standard of living achieved 
in the late 1970s. Despite austerity budgets, the government boosted 
annual price subsidies for essential commodities to a total of LSI .4 
billion and continued to maintain a safety net of health, welfare, 
and public housing services. 

Social welfare and development projects have been concentrated 
in rural areas. Although in 1970 only 10 percent of rural dwellers 
had access to electricity, by the mid-1980s, electricity had been 
brought to virtually every village. However, progress lagged in 
providing sewage disposal, potable water, and health facilities to 
rural areas. City dwellers benefited from the proximity of medi- 
cal, transportation, and educational facilities but suffered from a 
severe housing shortage. In addition, municipal services such as 
sanitation were inadequate for the rapidly growing urban popu- 

Increasing government responsibility in the field of social wel- 
fare has been consistent with the program of the Baath Party to 
create a socialist society. Official initiative in economic and social 
improvements has been reflected in substantial allocations set aside 
for these purposes in development plans. However, government- 
financed projects designed to bring about these improvements 
tended to be delayed because of frequent cabinet changes and shift- 
ing emphases within development budgets. 

The principle of linking long-term economic development to 
social welfare has been voiced in official statements — calling for 
a better geographic distribution of industrial production and social 
services — accompanying development plans. Persistent welfare 
problems, however, arising from rural poverty and urban crowd- 
ing and compounded by rapid population growth and the influx 
of refugees, often necessitated the diversion of funds earmarked 
for long-term planning to ad hoc relief measures. 

Land, Water, and Climate 

Along the Mediterranean, a narrow coastal plain stretches south 
from the Turkish border to Lebanon. The flatness of this littoral, 
covered with sand dunes, is broken only by lateral promontories 
running down from the mountains to the sea (see fig. 4). Syria 
claims a territorial limit of thirty-five nautical miles off its Mediter- 
ranean coastline. 

The Jabal an Nusayriyah, a mountain range paralleling the 
coastal plain, average just over 1,212 meters; the highest peak in 
the range, Nabi Yunis, is about 1,575 meters. The western slopes 
catch moisture-laden western sea winds and are thus more fertile 


The Society and Its Environment 

Figure 4. Physical Features 

and more heavily populated than the eastern slopes, which receive 
only hot, dry winds blowing across the desert. Before reaching the 
Lebanese border and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, the Jabal an 
Nusayriyah range terminates, leaving a corridor — the Horns Gap — 
through which run the highway and railroad from Horns to the 
Lebanese port of Tripoli. For centuries the Horns Gap has been 
a favorite trade and invasion route from the coast to the country's 
interior and to other parts of Asia. Eastward, the line of the Jabal 
an Nusayriyah is separated from the Jabal az Zawiyah range and 
the plateau region by the Al Ghab depression, a fertile, irrigated 
trench crossed by the meandering Orontes River. 

Inland and farther south, the Anti-Lebanon Mountains rise to 
peaks of over 2,700 meters on the Syrian-Lebanese frontier and 
spread in spurs eastward toward the plateau region. The eastern 
slopes have little rainfall and vegetation and merge eventually with 
the desert. 

In the southwest, the lofty Mount Hermon (Jabal ash Shaykh), 
also on the border between Syria and Lebanon, descends to the 


Syria: A Country Study 

Hawran Plateau — frequently referred to as the Hawran — that 
receives rain-bearing winds from the Mediterranean. All but the 
lowest slopes of Mount Hermon are uninhabited, however. Vol- 
canic cones, some of which reach over 900 meters, intersperse the 
open, rolling, once-fertile Hawran Plateau south of Damascus and 
east of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Southwest of the Hawran 
lies the high volcanic region of the Jabal al Arab (formerly known 
as the Jabal Druze) range, home of the country's Druze popula- 
tion (see Druzes, this ch.). 

The entire eastern plateau region is intersected by a low chain 
of mountains — the Jabal ar Ruwaq, the Jabal Abu Rujmayn, and 
the Jabal Bishri — extending northeastward from the Jabal al Arab 
to the Euphrates River. South of these mountains lies a barren 
desert region known as the Hamad. North of the Jabal ar Ruwaq 
and east of the city of Horns is another barren area known as the 
Horns Desert, which has a hard-packed dirt surface. 

Northeast of the Euphrates River, which originates in the moun- 
tains of Turkey and flows diagonally across Syria into Iraq, is the 
fertile Jazirah region that is watered by the tributaries of the 
Euphrates. The area underwent irrigation improvements during 
the 1960s and 1970s, and it provides substantial cereal and cotton 
crops. Oil and natural gas discoveries in the extreme northeastern 
portion of the Jazirah have significantly enhanced the region's eco- 
nomic potential. 

The country's waterways are of vital importance to its agricul- 
tural development. The longest and most important river is the 
Euphrates, which represents more than 80 percent of Syria's water 
resources. Its main left-bank tributaries, the Balikh and the Khabur, 
are both major rivers and also rise in Turkey. The right-bank tribu- 
taries of the Euphrates, however, are small seasonal streams called 
wadis. In 1973, Syria completed construction of the Euphrates Dam 
(also known as Tabaqah Dam or Thawra Dam) on the Euphrates 
River upstream from the town of Ar Raqqah. The dam created 
a reservoir named Lake Assad (Buhayrat al Assad), a body of water 
about eighty kilometers long and averaging eight kilometers in 

Throughout the arid plateau region east of Damascus, oases, 
streams, and a few interior rivers that empty into swamps and small 
lakes provide water for local irrigation. Most important of these 
is the Barada, a river that rises in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains 
and disappears into the desert. The Barada creates the Al Ghutah 
Oasis, site of Damascus. This verdant area, some 370 kilometers 
square, has enabled Damascus to prosper since ancient times. In 
the mid-1980s, the size of Al Ghutah was gradually being eroded 


The Society and Its Environment 

as suburban housing and light industry from Damascus encroached 
on the oasis. 

Areas in the Jazirah have been brought under cultivation with 
the waters of the Khabur River. The Sinn, a minor river in Al 
Ladhiqiyah Province, is used to irrigate the area west of the Jabal 
an Nusayriyah, about thirty-two kilometers southwest of the port 
of Latakia. In the south, the springs that feed the upper Yarmuk 
River are diverted for irrigation of the Hawran. Underground water 
reservoirs that are mainly natural springs are tapped for both irri- 
gation and drinking. The richest in underground water resources 
is the Al Ghab region, which contains about nineteen major springs 
and underground rivers that have a combined yield of thousands 
of liters per minute. 

The most striking feature of the climate is the contrast of sea and 
desert. Between the humid Mediterranean coast and the arid desert 
regions lies a semiarid steppe zone extending across three-fourths 
of the country and bordered on the west by the Anti- Lebanon Moun- 
tains and the Jabal an Nusayriyah, on the north by the Turkish 
mountain region, and on the southeast by the jabal al Arab, Jabal 
ar Ruwaq, Jabal Abu Rujmayn, and Jabal Bishri ranges. 

Rainfall in this area is fairly abundant, annual precipitation rang- 
ing between seventy-five and one hundred centimeters. Most of 
the rain, carried by winds from the Mediterranean, falls between 
November and May. The annual mean temperatures range from 
7.2° C in January to 26.6° C in August. Because the high ridges 
of the Jabal an Nusayriyah catch most of the rains from the Mediter- 
ranean, the Al Ghab depression, located east of these mountains, 
is in a relatively arid zone with warm, dry winds and scanty rain- 
fall. Frost is unknown in any season, although the peaks of the Jabal 
an Nusayriyah are sometimes covered with snow. 

Farther south, rain-bearing clouds from the Mediterranean pass 
through the gap between the Jabal an Nusayriyah and the Anti- 
Lebanon Mountains, reaching the area of Horns and, sometimes, 
the steppe region east of that city. Still farther to the south, however, 
the Anti-Lebanon Mountains bar the rains from the Mediterra- 
nean, and the area, including the capital city of Damascus, becomes 
part of the semiarid climatic zone of the steppe, with precipitation 
averaging less than 20 centimeters a year and with temperatures 
from 4.4° C in January to 37.7° C in July and August. The vicin- 
ity of the capital is, nevertheless, verdant and cultivable because 
of irrigation from the Barada River by aqueducts built during 
Roman times. 

In the southeast, the humidity decreases, and annual precipita- 
tion falls below ten centimeters. The scanty amounts of rain, 


A Country Study 

moreover, are highly variable from year to year, causing periodic 
droughts. In the barren stony desert south of the Jabal ar Ruwaq, 
Jabal Abu Rujmayn, and Jabal Bishri ranges, temperatures in July 
often exceed 43.3° C. Sandstorms, common during February and 
May, damage vegetation and prevent grazing. North of the desert 
ranges and east of the Al Ghab depression lie the vast steppes of 
the plateau, where cloudless skies and high daytime temperatures 
prevail during the summer, but frosts, at times severe, are com- 
mon from November to March. Precipitation averages twenty-five 
centimeters a year but falls below twenty centimeters in a large 
belt along the southern desert area. In this belt, only the Euphrates 
and Khabur rivers provide sufficient water for settlement and cul- 


The 1981 census, the last official count for which full details were 
available in early 1987, showed a population of about 8,996,000, 
not including approximately 340,000 beduin and some 263,000 
Palestinian refugees. The growth rate was calculated at about 
3.4 percent a year. According to Syrian government reports avail- 
able in 1987, the population in mid-1986 was about 10,612,000 
and was growing at the same annual rate. Various international 
agencies and United States government sources, however, estimated 
the annual rate of population increase at between 3.7 and 3.8 per- 
cent, one of the highest in the world, and calculated the popula- 
tion at between approximately 10,310,000 and 10,500,000. 

Both the 1970 and the 1981 censuses suggest that men outnum- 
ber women by over 4 percent, but this statistic must be viewed from 
the perspective of some sociological and biological factors charac- 
teristic of the area. Chief among these are the underreporting of 
women, particularly unmarried women, and the high mortality rate 
among women of childbearing age. 

The 1970 census indicated that there were 104.6 men to every 
100 women. The corresponding ratio in 1986 was estimated at 104.2 
men to 100 women. A regional analysis of the sex ratio according 
to official 1986 population estimates shows that in the southern 
provinces of Al Qunaytirah, As Suwayda, and Dar'a, which are 
close to the Israeli border, the ratio of men to women is equal. These 
ratios illustrate the probable decline of males in refugee groups that 
have men involved in military operations or otherwise separated 
from their families. The ratio of males is higher in urban than in 
rural areas. In the cities of Damascus, Latakia, and Aleppo, there 
are, respectively, 197, 105, and 108 men per 100 women. However, 
women outnumber men in the rural areas of Halab, Al Hasakah, 


The Society and Its Environment 


75 + 







FEMALES l—llil 





i m 


I lili 



I [mmm 



I I 






i mm 



1 *mmm 



\ Wmmm^ 

i «P; « 1 1 

5-9 I I I 

1-4 j 



| | | 



1 1 1 1 1 


1 1 



1 000 


Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1986, Damascus, 1986. 

Figure 5. Population Distribution by Age and Sex, 1985 

As Suwaydah, and Dar'a provinces. This imbalance occurs at least 
in part because males go to the cities in search of employment, 
leaving the women and children in the villages. 

Syria's rapid population growth is reflected in the youthfulness 
of its population. Age-related data from Syria's 1985 population 
estimate indicated that about 49 percent of the population was under 
15 years old, and 36 percent was under 10 years old (see fig. 5). 
An analysis of the same data showed that the proportion of people 
of working age (15 to 59 years) was just over 44 percent of the total. 
Therefore, the working population supported a large number of 
inactive youths, to which were added elderly dependents or retirees 
over the age of sixty, whose numbers were slowly rising because 
of improved health conditions. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Density, Distribution, and Settlement 

Syria is one of the most densely populated countries in the Mid- 
dle East and in 1986 had an overall average population density 
of approximately fifty-seven persons per square kilometer. There 
were considerable regional variations, however. Along Syria's 
Mediterranean coastline, the population density sometimes ex- 
ceeded sixty-eight per square kilometer, but along the parallel inland 
axis between the Jordanian and Turkish borders, and in the vicinity 
of the Euphrates and Khabur river valleys, population density aver- 
aged only about twenty per square kilometer; desert areas were 
virtually uninhabited (see fig. 6). 

Urbanization is progressing at a rapid rate, but the explosive 
urban growth of the 1960s had tapered off by the 1980s. Rural to 
urban migration, the lower mortality rates of urban groups, and 
the influx of refugees contributed to precipitous growth in the major 
cities. However, the administrative incorporation of rural areas 
adjacent to some urban centers has inflated some growth figures. 
Between 1960 and 1970, Syria's urban population increased by 
between 50 and 57 percent. Between 1970 and 1980, cities grew 
by approximately 40 percent. In 1981 an estimated 47 percent of 
the population lived in urban areas. Although nearly one in four 
Syrian citizens lived in either Damascus or Aleppo, a significant 
part of the urban population was distributed relatively evenly among 
a half dozen other major cities. 

Damascus is growing at an annual rate of 5 percent. The last 
official census, in 1981, calculated its population at 1.1 million, 
and its 1986 population was estimated at 1.4 million, 13.2 percent 
of Syria's population. Aleppo, Syria's second largest city, had a 
population in 1986 of approximately 1.2 million. Between 1970 and 
1981, the population of Damascus increased by 26 percent. 
However, during the same period, cities in eastern Syria and the 
coastal region grew at two to three times the rate of Damascus. 
For example, Ar Raqqah grew by 81 percent, Al Hasakah by 
77 percent, and Tartus by 53 percent. Syria appears to have avoided 
the growth pattern of other developing nations in which the majority 
of the population is concentrated in one or two cities. 

Vital Statistics 

The most recent vital statistics, based on numbers of births and 
deaths per 1,000 population, varied according to source. Accord- 
ing to Syrian government data, the crude birthrate in 1984 was 
45.9 per 1,000. A 1986 estimate by an independent source calcu- 
lated the crude birthrate at 47 per 1 ,000. Syrian sources estimated 


The Society and Its Environment 

Figure 6. Population Distribution, 1981 Census 

the 1984 crude death rate at 8.3 per 1,000, while a 1986 estimate 
by an independent source calculated the rate at 9 per 1,000, and 
another source estimated it at 13 per 1,000 in 1981. Life expec- 
tancy at birth was estimated in 1986 to be sixty-four years, a marked 
increase over the 1970 life expectancy of fifty-four years. The change 
in this figure was primarily a result of a much lower infant mortal- 
ity rate, which was reduced from 105 per 1,000 to 59 per 1,000 
in the same time period. 

Vital statistics for Syria are incomplete and are regarded as 
unreliable by United Nations demographers. Because births and 
deaths in the countryside are rarely registered, estimates are based 
on deficient coverage. The recording of births in the cities is based 
on the date of registration rather than on the date of birth, which 
causes wide fluctuations from year to year. 


Syria: A Country Study 

The Peoples 

The society is composed of a number of cohesive groups recog- 
nizing a common heritage and exhibiting great solidarity. Both lin- 
guistic and religious characteristics define these peoples; religious 
communities within the larger language groups function as separate 
quasi-ethnic entities and in many cases have developed distinctive 
cultural patterns. Ethnic and religious groups tend to be concen- 
trated in certain geographic regions and certain social positions. 
For example, about 40 percent of the Sunnis are urban dwellers; 
of those, 80 percent live in the five largest cities. Alawis (also known 
as Alawites — see Glossary) are generally poor and live in rural areas. 
About 90 percent of the inhabitants of the Jabal al Arab are Druzes 
(see Glossary); the Jews and Armenians are largely urban traders. 

The cultural differences distinguishing religious communities are 
far greater than would be expected to arise from strictly theologi- 
cal or religious sources. The differences arose during the lengthy 
social separation during which each of the various communities 
pursued an independent communal life. For example, in addition 
to the obvious difference of religious belief and ritual, differences 
in clothing, household architecture, etiquette, agricultural prac- 
tice, and outlook characterize the cultures of Muslims, Christians, 
and Druzes (see Religious Life, this ch.). 

Accurate statistical breakdowns by language and ethnic group 
were unavailable in 1986, and estimates by authorities varied. 
Arabs, or native speakers of Arabic, were thought to constitute 
nearly 90 percent of the population, but Kurdish, Armenian, 
Turkic, and Syriac were also spoken. Arabs are divided into a num- 
ber of religious communities. Arabic- speaking Sunni Muslims, who 
constitute the largest single group, account for about two-thirds 
of the population (see fig. 7). 

Arabs live in all parts of the country — in city and village, desert 
and mountain. Non-Arab groups generally live in partial isolation 
from each other, either in their own village or cluster of villages 
or in specific quarters of towns and cities, mostly in the area north 
of Aleppo or in the Jazirah region of the northeast. The Jazirah 
is particularly heterogeneous; among its settled population, the 
proportion of non- Arabs is much greater than in any other region. 
The concentration of non-Arab groups in Halab Province and in 
the Jazirah gives these areas a distinct character and has caused 
concern in the central government about the maintenance of order 

Many city dwellers speak a Western language in addition to 
Arabic; French is by far the most common, and many educated 


The Society and Its Environment 

Figure 7. Distribution of Ethnic Groups 

Syrians are as fluent in it as in Arabic. Although English is 
increasingly used, many Syrians do not know it as well as they do 
French, which has been the major channel for the exchange of learn- 
ing between Syria and the West. 

The consciousness of a Syrian nationality is not well developed. 
Among both Arabs and minority groups, primary individual loyalty 
is to the local ethnic or religious community. In effect, coopera- 
tion tends to be restricted to traditional family, ethnic, and reli- 
gious groups. To protect themselves or to meet immediate needs, 
individuals cooperate with those personally known and trusted; 
impersonal cooperation for long-range programs with nonfamily 
or nonmembers of the same religious community is another mat- 
ter. As one Syrian has noted, Syrians may want the government 
to do things for them, but will rarely cooperate in getting those 
things done. 

Individuals have few obligations to their ethnic group at large. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Ethnic loyalties take shape only when one's group is under attack 
by another. For example, Kurds close ranks against Arabs if Arab 
landowners are raising land rents. Such action could be interpreted 
by Kurds as Arab persecution. 

This extreme heterogeneity and lack of general coherence has 
led the government to attempt Arabization of the population. For 
example, it no longer refers to the Druze region as Jabal Druze 
(Mountain of the Druzes), but has renamed it Jabal al Arab (Moun- 
tain of the Arabs). Syrians are addressed in political speeches as 
"descendants of the Umayyads," "Arab citizens," "brother 
Arabs," and "descendants of Walid and of Saladin." "The blessed 
Syrian homeland" is "the land of Arabism." This deemphasis on 
ethnic differences has more and more equated the terms "Syrian" 
and "Arab." 

The Syrian government deals with religious communities, not 
Arabs, Kurds, or Armenians. Census reports, for example, enumer- 
ate various Muslim groups, Druzes, Armenian Orthodox (Grego- 
rian), Armenian Catholics, and Jews. There is no official listing 
of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, or Jews, as such, as ethnic groups. 
Candidates for political office are named in government lists as 
members of religious communities only; the government lead is 
followed even in the press, which describes individuals as Arabs 
or as members of religious communities and does not identify them 
with ethnic minorities. 


The Arabs identify with speakers of their language throughout 
the Middle East. The majority of Syrian Arabs are Muslims; chiefly 
Sunni (see Glossary), they also include the Alawis, Ismailis (see 
Glossary), and Shias (see Glossary). All the Druzes are Arabic- 
speaking, as are the Jews and virtually all of the Christian popula- 
tion; most Christian Arabs are Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, 
or Greek Catholic (see Religious Life, this ch.). Being both Arab 
and Muslim leads many Syrians to feel that the two characteris- 
tics are natural companions and that one cannot be an Arab without 
being Muslim, and vice versa. 

Syrian Arabs are highly conscious of the Islamic-Arab tradition. 
This is also true of Arab Christians, who follow Muslim customs 
in many of their daily activities and look with pride to the great- 
ness of the Arab past. 

Most Syrian Arabs think of the nomadic tribesman as the ideal 
Arab type. This attitude is common among both villagers and city 
dwellers, though the latter may also speak of the tribesman as quaint 
and backward. Arabs generally think of non- Arabs as inferior, but, 


The Society audits Environment 

because these groups are comparatively small and constitute no 
possible threat to the social position of the Arab majority, the feel- 
ing is not very strong. 

Arabic, one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, 
is the mother tongue of about 200 million people, from Morocco 
to the Arabian Sea. One of the Semitic languages, it is related to 
Aramaic, Phoenician, Syriac, Hebrew, various Ethiopic languages, 
and the Akkadian of ancient Babylonia and Assyria. 

Throughout the Arab world, the language exists in three forms: 
the Classical Arabic of the Quran; the literary language developed 
from the classical and referred to as Modern Standard Arabic, which 
has virtually the same structure wherever used; and the spoken lan- 
guage, which in Syria. is Syrian Arabic. Educated Arabs, therefore, 
are bilingual, having knowledge of both Modern Standard Arabic 
and their own dialect of spoken Arabic. Even uneducated Arabic 
speakers, who in Syria consist of over 40 percent of the population, 
usually comprehend the meaning of something said in Modern Stan- 
dard Arabic, although they are unable to speak it; however, they 
may have difficulty fully understanding radio and television pro- 
grams, which are usually broadcast in Modern Standard Arabic. 
Because Classical Arabic is the language of the Quran and is regarded 
literally as the language of God, Arabs almost unanimously believe 
that the Arabic language is their greatest historical legacy. 

Syrian Arabic is similar to Lebanese Arabic but differs signifi- 
cantly from colloquial Arabic in neighboring Iraq and Jordan. A 
Syrian would find colloquial Moroccan Arabic virtually incompre- 
hensible. Like most people speaking dialects, Syrians proudly regard 
their dialect as the most refined. However, few Syrians believe that 
their dialect is actually correct Arabic. Although they converse in 
Syrian Arabic, there is general agreement that Modern Standard 
Arabic, the written language, is superior to the spoken form. Arabs 
generally believe that the speech of the beduin resembles Classical 
Arabic most closely and that the local dialects used by settled vil- 
lagers and townspeople are unfortunate corruptions. To overcome 
these linguistic barriers, educated Arabs speak Modern Standard 
Arabic to one another. Uneducated and illiterate Arabs, if Mus- 
lim, can converse with other Arabs in Classical Arabic learned from 
oral recitation of the Quran. 

Within Syria, regional differences in colloquial vocabulary, gram- 
mar, and accent are wide enough that a native speaker can readily 
identify another speaker's home province, tribe, city, and even 
neighborhood from the speaker's dialect. For example, Alawis from 
Al Ladhiqiyah Province are called "Al Qaf" because of their dis- 
tinct pronunciation of this letter, the "Q. " 


Syria: A Country Study 


Estimates of the number of Kurds in Syria vary widely, but they 
are believed to constitute about 9 percent of the population. 
Although some Kurdish tribal groups have lived in the country 
for generations, many arrived from Turkey between 1924 and 1938, 
when Mustapha Kemal attempted to force his reform programs 
on the Kurds there. 

The Kurds are a fiercely independent tribal people who speak 
their own language, Kirmanji. Living mainly in the broad, moun- 
tainous region of northwestern Iran, eastern Turkey, and north- 
ern Iraq, they are a cohesive people with intricate intertribal ties 
and a deep pride in their own history and traditions. Most Kurds 
are farmers; some are city dwellers; and others are nomads who 
drive their flocks far into the mountains in the summer and graze 
them on the lowlands in the winter. 

Roughly 35 to 40 percent of the Kurds live in the foothills of 
the Taurus Mountains north of Aleppo. An equal number live in 
the Jazirah; about 10 percent, in the vicinity of Jarabulus north- 
east of Aleppo; and from 10 to 15 percent, in the Hayy al Akrad 
(Quarter of the Kurds) on the outskirts of Damascus. 

Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims; a very small number are Chris- 
tians and Alawis. In addition, the Syrian Yazidis (see Glossary), 
who speak Kirmanji, are sometimes considered Kurds. Number- 
ing about 12,000, the Yazidis inhabit the Jabal Siman west of 
Aleppo; the Jabal al Akrad north of Aleppo; and a few villages south 
of Amuda and the Jabal Abd al Aziz in the Jazirah. Most of the 
Yazidis work the land for Muslim landowners. 

Syria's Kurds are almost entirely settled, but they retain much 
of their tribal organization. Although some groups in the Jazirah 
are seminomadic, most are village dwellers who cultivate wheat, 
barley, cotton, and rice. Urban Kurds engage in a number of 
occupations, but not generally in commerce. Many are manual 
laborers; some are employed as supervisors and foremen, work that 
has come to be considered their specialty. There are some Kurds 
in the civil service and the army, and a few have attained high rank. 
Most of the small wealthy group of Kurds derive their income from 
urban real estate. 

Kurds who have left the more isolated villages and entered Arab 
society have generally adopted the dress and customs of the com- 
munity in which they live. In the Jazirah, for example, many have 
adopted beduin dress, live in tents, and are generally indistin- 
guishable from the beduin, except in speech. Most Kurds speak 
both Kirmanji and Arabic, although others, particularly those in 


A busy street in Dayr az Zawr 
Courtesy Mona Yacoubian 


Damascus, may speak only Arabic. Kurds who have entered the 
country in the present generation usually retain much of the lan- 
guage, dress, and customs of their native highlands. 

For most Kurds, whether long established in Syria or recently 
arrived, tribal loyalty is stronger than national loyalty to either the 
Syrian state or a Kurdish nation. They are traditionally distrust- 
ful of any government, particularly that in Damascus. However, 
relatively peaceful residence in Syria and gradual assimilation have 
mitigated their distrust of Syrian authorities. 


The Armenians are descendants of a people who have existed 
continuously in Transcaucasia since about the sixth century B.C. 
Although a small number of Armenians have been settled in the 
country for several generations, the bulk of those in Syria arrived 
in successive waves as refugees from Turkey between 1925 and 

Like Armenians throughout the Middle East, Armenians in Syria 
are city or town dwellers. About 150,000 Armenians lived in Syria 
in the mid-1980s. Roughly 75 percent live in Aleppo, where they 
are a large and commercially important element. About 15 per- 
cent live in the Hayy al Arman (Quarter of the Armenians), a new 
section of Damascus. The remaining approximately 10 percent are 
scattered in cities and towns throughout the country, especially in 



Syria: A Country Study 

the larger towns along the northern border of the Jazirah. Most 
Armenians belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church, but about 
20,000 belong to the Armenian Catholic Church. 

The Armenian language, which has its own alphabet, belongs 
to the Indo-European family at the same level as such other sub- 
families as the Slavic and Italic languages. There is a classical form 
with an old, highly developed Christian literature, but modern 
Armenian differs essentially from the older form. 

The Armenians work chiefly in trade, the professions, small 
industry, or crafts; a few are found in government service. In 
Aleppo, where some families have been traders for generations, 
their economic position is strong. Many of the technical and skilled 
workers of Damascus and Aleppo are Armenian; in the smaller 
towns, they are generally small traders or craftspeople. 

Armenians are the largest unassimilated group in Syria. They 
retain many of their own customs, maintain their own schools, and 
read newspapers in their own language. Some leaders adamantly 
oppose assimilation and stress the maintenance of Armenian iden- 
tity. As Arab nationalism and socialism have become more 
important in Syrian political life, Armenians have found themselves 
under some pressure and have felt increasingly alienated. As a 
result, they were reported in the 1960s and early 1970s to have 
emigrated in large numbers. 


Small groups of Turkomans, Circassians, Assyrians, and Jews 
retain ethnic identities in Syria. Although the last two are primar- 
ily religious groups, they may also be considered ethnic commu- 
nities because of the cultural consciousness developed over a period 
of many years. 

The Turkomans are a Turkic-speaking people who moved into 
Syria from Central Asia. Originally nomadic, they are now semi- 
nomadic herders in the Jazirah and along the lower reaches of the 
Euphrates River and are also settled agriculturists in the Aleppo 
area. Although most Turkomans have assumed Arab dress and 
speak some Arabic, others still speak Turkic and retain some eth- 
nic customs. Because they are Sunni Muslims, the Turkomans are 
likely to become further assimilated and may eventually disappear 
as a distinct group. 

Approximately 100,000 Circassians, descendants of Muslim 
nomads who emigrated to Syria from the Caucasus after its 
nineteenth-century conquest by the Russians, live in Syria. About 
half of them are concentrated in Al Qunaytirah Province. The 
provincial capital, Al Qunaytirah, destroyed in the October 1973 


The Society and Its Environment 

War, was regarded as the Circassian capital; after 1973 many Cir- 
cassians moved to Damascus. 

Circassian village dwellers, who are organized tribally, primar- 
ily cultivate grain crops. In addition to farming, they maintain herds 
of cattle, horses, sheep, and goats; some are blacksmiths and 
masons, passing on their skills from father to son. 

Having resisted assimilation more successfully than the Turko- 
mans, the Circassians retain many customs quite different from 
those of their Arab neighbors. Until recently, they spoke their own 
language exclusively, but most now speak Arabic as well. At times 
some Circassians, especially those in Al Qunaytirah, have 
demanded autonomy, but this is not an issue for most of them. 
Syrian Arabs still somewhat distrust Circassians because they served 
as troops for the French during the mandate period (see World 
War I, Arab Nationalism, and the French Mandate, ch. 1). In spite 
of these difficulties, the Circassians gradually are being assimilated 
into the Arab population, a process facilitated by their being Sunni 

The present-day Assyrians, of whom there are about 20,000 in 
Syria, are Nestorian Christians and speak Syriac, a form of 
Aramaic, the ancient language spoken throughout the region before 
the widespread adoption of Arabic. Fleeing persecution in Iraq in 
1933, those in Syria settled in the Jazirah near Tall Tamir on the 
upper Khabur River. The French established this Assyrian settle- 
ment with the assistance of the League of Nations, and in 1942 
it became an integral part of Syria. 

The Assyrian settlement on the Khabur consists of about twenty 
villages, primarily agricultural. Although they own irrigated lands, 
the villagers barely make a living from their farming, possibly 
because they are former shepherds, not cultivators, and the lands 
granted to them are poor. Because of their difficult situation, some 
Assyrians have left the region. 

Jews have been settled in Syria for centuries; at present most 
are concentrated in Aleppo and Damascus, and some are scattered 
in towns in the northern Jazirah. Of the estimated 29,000 Jews 
in Syria in 1943, some 3,000 remained in 1986, according to Israeli 
sources. Most had emigrated to Israel. Because Syria currently 
restricts emigration of Jews, Israel has had little success in negotiat- 
ing with Syria through intermediaries for the relocation of the entire 
Jewish community to Israel. 

The Jewish community of Aleppo was once fairly prosperous 
and an important element in the city's commercial life. However, 
most of the few Jews remaining in Aleppo live in the Bab al Faraj 
section, a dilapidated area in the center of the city. The Damascus 


Syria: A Country Study 

Jewish community lives primarily in the Hayy al Yahud (Quarter 
of the Jews) in the old city of Damascus, although it is not con- 
fined there and some Jews have taken up residence in other parts 
of the city. In the Hayy al Yahud, Jews are permitted to worship 
at synagogues and to operate their own private schools, where 
Hebrew is taught. Most Damascus Jews are peddlers, shopkeep- 
ers, money changers, or artisans; a few are important professional 
people, particularly physicians. Although most Syrian Jews pub- 
licly dissociate themselves from Zionism and Israel, most other Syri- 
ans distrust them, considering them real or potential traitors. 

Structure of Society 

In the mid-1980s, Syrian society was in a state of flux. The social, 
political, and economic developments of the preceding two decades 
had precipitated profound changes and realignments in the social 
structure, but the implications and probable outcomes of these 
changes were not entirely clear. This uncertainty arises from the 
division of Syrian society by vertical cleavages along religious and 
ethnic lines, as well as by horizontal cleavages along socioeconomic 
and class lines. Minority groups tend to segregate themselves in 
their own neighborhoods and villages. Although within a minority 
group there is a high degree of integration and homogeneity, the 
group as a whole is often ascribed a certain social status. Tradi- 
tionally, Syrian society has been divided between landlords and 
tenants, between urban dwellers and rural peasants, and between 
a Sunni elite and minority groups. 

Until the revolutions of the mid-1960s, a syndicate of several 
hundred Sunni Muslim extended families living in Damascus and 
Aleppo had dominated life in Syria. Some of these families were 
of the Sharifian nobility, which claims genealogical descent from 
the Prophet Muhammad. Most had accumulated great wealth and 
wielded virtual feudal power as landlords possessing vast agricul- 
tural and real estate holdings. Others made fortunes in industry 
and trade in the late nineteenth century. Another component of 
the ruling class was the ulama (sing., alim). This group consisted 
of religious scholars, Islamic judges (qadis), interpreters of law (muf- 
tis), and other persons concerned with the exposition of Sunni Islam. 
Prosperous Sunni bazaar merchants that were allied with the great 
families occupied the next level in the social hierarchy. 

The Syrian elite was at the forefront of the anticolonial struggle 
against the Ottoman Empire in World War I and later against the 
French Mandate regime. At independence in 1946, Syria's first 
government was dominated by the old ruling class. However, the 
elite had never been a monolithic entity, and the new parliament 


The Society audits Environment 

was splintered by factionalism, feuding, and generational differ- 
ences. These divisions provoked a military coup d'etat in 1949 that 
ushered in a new era in Syrian society. 

The armed services and the Baath Party were the mechanisms 
for the rise of a new ruling elite. Although military service tradi- 
tionally had been disdained by the old Sunni elite, a military career 
was often the only avenue of upward mobility open to rural minority 
group members who could not afford an education. Such men 
enlisted in disproportionate numbers and came to dominate the 
officer corps and the enlisted ranks of Syria's armed forces. Like- 
wise, disenfranchised elements of society joined the Baath Party. 
These dual trends culminated in the 1963 Baath Revolution and 
the 1970 takeover by the military of the Baath Party. 

The land reform legislation of 1963 and the nationalization of 
larger financial, commercial, and industrial establishments virtu- 
ally eliminated the economic and political power base of the old 
elite. At the same time, the new elite, comprised of the upper eche- 
lon of military and civilian leaders, consolidated its position by cul- 
tivating the support of peasants and the proletariat, who benefited 
from the new economic order. The regime's socialism eroded the 
position of the bazaar merchants while its secularism removed power 
from the ulama. 

After coming to power in 1970, President Hafiz al Assad reversed 
or relaxed the more strident socialist economic measures instituted 
in 1963. His expansion of the role of the private sector led to the 
emergence of a relatively small, but highly visible, new class of 
entrepreneurs and businessmen who made fortunes in real estate, 
importing, and construction. This class, nicknamed in Syria "the 
velvet generation," includes higher ranking government bureau- 
crats and their relatives who have capitalized on their official posi- 
tions to monopolize lucrative government contracts. It also has 
assimilated many members of the old Sunni elite, who have been 
co-opted by the Assad regime and have accommodated themselves 
to the new elite. To some extent, the old and new ruling classes 
have merged through business partnerships and marriages that com- 
bine the money and prestige of the old elite member and the power 
and prestige of the new elite member. Despite a well-publicized 
anticorruption campaign, patronage and favoritism have remained 
important forces in Syrian society. 

Under Assad, rural peasants have reaped significant gains in their 
standard of living, primarily through government transfer payments 
and grants of land redistributed from the original upper-class 
owners. However, land reform has not been entirely successful in 
transforming the social structure of the countryside. In many cases, 


Syria: A Country Study 

farmers who had previously depended upon their urban landlords 
to give credit for financing their crops until harvest and to deal 
with the government have drifted back into similar relationships 
with urban interests. The landlord's role as an influential advo- 
cate and local leader has not been filled by elected Baath Party 
representatives. In other cases, rich proprietors have begun to regain 
control over agricultural land and reconstitute large estates. 

Since the 1963 Baath Revolution, the approximate middle of 
Syrian society has remained remarkably stable, both as a percent- 
age of the work force and in terms of the standard of living and 
social mobility of its members. Because Syria has not yet developed 
a large industrial sector, it lacks a true proletariat of wage-earning 
factory workers. The number of persons employed by private and 
public sector industry in 1980 was 207,000, or 12 percent of the 
working population, according to statistics compiled by Syria's 
General Federation of Trade Unions. This approximates the size 
of Syria's "working class." 

Syria compensates for its lack of a large proletarian class of 
industrial factory workers by a large and flourishing group of arti- 
sans and handicrafters who produce basic commodities such as soap, 
textiles, glassware, and shoes in small cottage industries. This group 
is a main component of Syria's traditional middle class, which also 
encompasses small proprietors, tradespeople, and white-collar 
employees and has remained at about 30 percent of the population. 

Since the 1963 revolution, a new and upwardly mobile class of 
teachers, scientists, lawyers, technocrats, civil servants, doctors, 
and other professionals has slowly emerged. This new upper-middle 
class consists of men and women who rose from the old lower or 
middle classes by virtue of technical or secular higher education. 

Even before the revolution of 1963, secular education had become 
a criterion of status among many ordinary Syrians, especially as 
higher education ensured a virtually automatic entry into admired 
and well-paying occupations. The importance of education in this 
context will probably grow. 

Values taught in the schools and emphasized in the media reflect 
those of the group controlling the government and have gained some 
currency. Nevertheless, the traditional conservatism of the peasants 
as well as the economic problems of daily survival that have not 
been alleviated by changes in government policy militate against 
any sudden change in the values or way of life of the masses. 

As in other Middle Eastern countries, Syrian society has for 
millennia been divided into three discrete systems of organization 
based on ecological factors; these are the town, the village, and 
the tribe. Although closely interrelated, each fosters a distinct and 


A coppersmith plying 
his trade in a suq 
Courtesy Mona Yacoubian 

independent variation of Arab culture. The cities of the Middle 
East are among the most ancient in the world; urban life has been 
integral to the society of the region throughout recorded history. 
Therefore, the townsman and his role are well known to all seg- 
ments of the population. The tribesman, or beduin, although suffer- 
ing irreversible changes since the mid-twentieth century, has also 
been a widely known and admired figure throughout history. The 
peasant farmer, or fellah (pi., fellahin), although less admired than 
the townsman or the tribesman, also occupies a position of recog- 
nized value. 

The members of each of the three structural segments of society 
look on the others as socially distinct. This social distance is sym- 
bolized by easily recognized differences in clothing, food, home 
furnishings, accent, and custom; intermarriage between village, 
town, and tribal families is usually considered irregular. 

Traditionally, the cities have been an expression — at the highest 
level of sophistication and refinement — of the same Arab culture 
that animated the villages. As Western influence grew, however, 
during the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, the social 
distance between the city and village increased. Western customs, 
ideas, techniques, and languages were adopted first in the cities, 
especially by Christians, while the villages remained ignorant of 
them. The introduction and adoption of elements of a radically 
alien culture opened a gap between the city and the village that 


Syria: A Country Study 

has not narrowed with time. Only in recent years have modern 
transportation and mass communication begun to bring the coun- 
tryside once again into the same cultural orbit as the cities. 

Although the town, village, and tribe are socially distinct, they 
depend on each other for services and products and so are related 
by overall functional ties. The town supplies manufactured, spe- 
cialty, and luxury products; administrative and governmental serv- 
ices; education and higher learning; sophisticated culture; law and 
justice; and financing. The village supplies agricultural products; 
and the tribe provides protection and navigation for caravans, 
travelers, and traders in the desert. As more and more villagers 
become educated and move to the cities, and as the beduin sur- 
render their sole mastery of the desert to motor vehicles and the 
police power of the modern state and begin to adopt a sedentary 
life, the traditional distinctions will continue to blur. 


Compared with many other developing nations, Syria is heavily 
urban, as approximately 50 percent of the population lives in cities. 
In addition, it is estimated that 70 percent of the townspeople live 
in the two largest urban centers. 

Social structure in Syrian cities seems to be in a state of transi- 
tion. The traditional city — built around a small, wealthy landown- 
ing and industrial elite, craft and artisan guilds, and small 
merchants— has been decisively undermined by political, economic, 
and technological changes. However, a cohesive structure based 
on modern secular education, technology, and class alignments has 
not yet developed. Many of the values associated with the tradi- 
tional system endure and strongly influence the population, 
although admiration for modern values and techniques is increasing. 

Cities are commonly composed of several architecturally distinct 
sections, which represent different periods of history and, to some 
extent, different ways of life. The very ancient core of a city, often 
of the pre-Greek or pre-Roman period, houses many of the groups 
longest settled there. Sections were added during Greek, Roman, 
and medieval times; these traditional sections also house both 
majority and minority groups oriented to traditional life. The suq 
(traditional market), with its small specialized artisan shops, is a 
prominent feature of the old city. In addition, cities have a rela- 
tively new section, often built on modern European lines by French 
architectural firms, that houses families and enterprises most closely 
identified with modern technology and values. 

In keeping with the significance of the religious community in 
Syrian life, cities were traditionally organized into ethnic and 


The Society and Its Environment 

religious residential quarters. Members of all faiths still tend to 
reside with their coreligionists, and a quarter functions as a small 
community within the larger urban environment. 

A residential quarter traditionally had its own mosque or other 
religious structure, shops, and coffeehouses where the men met, 
as well as a mukhtar (mayor), who represented it to the outside society 
and was ordinarily a man of some importance in city politics. 
Families of all economic positions lived in the quarter appropriate 
to their religious or ethnic group. In relations within the quarter, 
family connections, personal reputation, and honor carried more 
weight than financial standing, although the latter was of course 
a factor. Individuals of varying financial positions dealt with one 
another on a personal basis, and wealthier and more prominent 
residents assumed leadership. 

As new sections and suburbs with more spacious and modern 
residences were constructed, many of the wealthier families of the 
various quarters moved there, causing a breakdown in the struc- 
ture of the old quarters. In the new areas, residential segregation 
followed economic class rather than religion or ethnicity. As a con- 
sequence, the old quarters were robbed of much of their traditional 
leadership, and the estrangement developing between the tradition- 
minded masses and the modern-oriented new middle class was 
exacerbated. An additional factor in the breakdown of the old quar- 
ters was the large influx of rural migrants to cities and the result- 
ing tremendous demand for housing. 

In the late 1980s, information on the urban upper and middle 
classes was inconclusive. The old elite appeared to have declined 
markedly in prestige, power, and influence. In addition, the emigra- 
tion of professional, commercial, and technical persons undoubt- 
edly had an effect on urban life. It is unlikely, however, that small 
trading or artisan establishments were greatly affected by the social 
changes of the 1960s, although future opportunities in these fields 
seemed to have contracted. 

It appears that a middle class, based on education, profession, 
income, and style of life, is in the process of forming, but its for- 
mation is far from complete. The many disparate elements com- 
posing it, including government officials, technicians, clerks, 
professionals, merchants, and traders, come from a variety of social 
backgrounds and do not share a class consciousness or set of values. 
The traditional commercial classes had aspired to the life of the 
old elite; however, the new middle class of education and exper- 
tise seeks an entirely different way of life. This group values scien- 
tific rather than traditional knowledge, control of nature rather than 
passive reliance on the deity, modernity rather than tradition, 


Syria: A Country Study 

individual initiative rather than family solidarity, and upward 
mobility rather than stability. 

The urban lower class is also a mixed group, ranging from a 
comparatively small segment of skilled industrial workers to mes- 
sengers, domestic workers, and others similarly employed. Indus- 
trial workers (skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled) have been located 
primarily in Damascus and Aleppo, although they are increasing 
in other towns, among them Latakia. Because of the comparative 
recency of industrialization in Syria, most industrial workers come 
from rural areas, and any expansion of industry under the revolu- 
tionary regime is likely, for a time, to bring other rural people into 
the cities. The development of Syria's oil resources in the extreme 
northeast should help, however, to diffuse the industrial working 
class over a wider area. 


The effects of the changes of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s on the 
structure of village society are not entirely clear. The urban absentee 
landlord has been a figure of considerable importance in the life 
of some villages, and the redistribution of land among the peasants 
has undoubtedly altered social relations. 

It is not possible to generalize about Syrian villages because eco- 
logical, ethnic, and other conditions vary. On the one hand, on 
the coast, where rainfall is regular, small farmers can operate suc- 
cessfully. On the other hand, in the interior, water supply is much 
less reliable; there, the small owner can easily be ruined by drought, 
and only large enterprises stand a reasonable chance of succeed- 
ing. For this reason, the peasant of the interior depends on financ- 
ing from the cities in place of advances for crops and equipment 
previously supplied by urban absentee landlords. 

The Syrian village traditionally was not a self-sufficient economic 
or social unit but was dependent on the nearest town or city for 
various services. This dependency increased in the 1970s and 1980s. 
Because of the development of a modern system of public trans- 
portation, peasants could visit the city with increasing frequency 
for reasons such as marketing, medical care, and entertainment. 
In addition, an increasing number of village youth attended urban 
secondary schools and in that manner gained a foothold in urban 
society, many remaining in the town after graduation. Increased 
migration to the city has to some extent lessened the isolation of 
the villagers from urban life, as many now have relatives or friends 
living in towns. Nevertheless, the village should remain a signifi- 
cant component of society. 

The relatively homogeneous occupational structure of the village 


The Society and Its Environment 

includes fewer status positions than exist in towns with less dis- 
tinction between the positions. With one or two exceptions, every 
capable adult works in agriculture. There is a very general divi- 
sion of labor on the basis of sex — men doing the jobs connected 
with planting, harvesting, and processing of crops and women car- 
ing for young children, keeping house, preparing meals, and doing 
the more menial tasks connected with crops and the care of animals. 
Only two or three nonagricultural specialists are likely to be found 
in a village — a small storekeeper, a coffeehouse proprietor, and a 
barber — and they provide goods and services needed daily by the 
villagers. Such specialists, with the exception of the barber, are 
likely to be retired or part-time cultivators. Their occupations give 
them a degree of social distinction. 

Villages are organized around families and their extensions. 
Often, a village consists of several lineages, or groups of descen- 
dants of the same ancestor; the lineages frequently form residen- 
tial neighborhoods and political blocs within the village. An 
individual's primary social identity is as a member of a given line- 
age. The leaders of the various lineages, usually respected middle- 
aged and older men informally chosen and recognized, maintain 
stability and make necessary decisions on an informal basis. These 
leaders keep themselves informed of opinion within their own line- 
ages and formulate policy in discussions with other leaders in the 
village coffeehouse or the guesthouse of a leading citizen. Those 
families not related to a lineage usually align themselves with the 
one in whose ward they live. 

Whatever a man's economic situation, he reaches its full social 
status when he can abstain from direct agricultural labor. For the 
ordinary peasant, this abstention occurs when he is old enough to 
have sons to take over his work, allowing him to devote himself 
to religious matters and family and village affairs. 

Traditionally, the nominal headman of the village was the 
mukhtar, who was not necessarily the man of highest prestige in the 
village. He was often chosen merely for his ability to read and write 
Arabic to the degree necessary to perform the functions of the office. 
If the mukhtar had a high standing in the community, it was because 
of his family background and personal qualities rather than his 
office. The mukhtar served primarily as a channel of communica- 
tion from higher administrative officials. 

In many, if not most, villages, ultimate power and status rested 
in the owners of village land, who frequently lived in town, although 
they might maintain a house in or near the village. In some cases, 
villages were mixed, in that a segment of a pastoral tribe had set- 
tled there. The head of such a segment (or of the tribe as a whole) 


Syria: A Country Study 

had a good deal of status and authority in the village. This stemmed 
in part from a certain prestige accorded tribal Arabs but also 
occurred because such tribal heads had acquired large quantities 
of land. 


The precise size of Syria's beduin population is not known, 
although in the mid-1980s it was estimated at less than 7 percent. 
The number of actual nomads among the tribesmen is steadily 
decreasing because of government settlement policy and the exten- 
sion of law to the desert. Nevertheless, the nomad remains a highly 
romantic and admired figure in folklore, and his pride, indepen- 
dence, sensitive honor, and disdain for agricultural or other manual 
labor are influential values among villagers, especially near the mar- 
gins of the desert. However, the Baath Party views the nomadic 
way of life as primitive and hopes to settle all beduin. Ordinarily 
tribesmen settle in their own villages rather than merging with 
peasant communities. 

In Syria, only eight wholly nomadic tribes remain, sometimes 
overlapping international boundaries. They are the Ruwala (by 
far the largest) and the Hassana of the Syrian Desert; the Butainat 
and the Abadah near Tadmur in central Hims Province; the Fadan 
Walad and the Fadan Kharsah of the Euphrates Desert; and the 
Shammar az Zur and the Shammar al Kharsah in Dayr az Zawr 

Tribal society consists of semiautonomous bands of kin moving 
their flocks within their respective territories. Each band is defined 
by its members' descent from a common male ancestor, and bands 
are grouped together according to their supposed descent from a 
more distant male. Each tribal group, from the smallest band to 
the largest confederation, ordinarily bears the name of the com- 
mon ancestor who supposedly founded the particular kin-group. 

The tribal community itself is defined in terms of kinship, and 
patterns of behavior, both within and between groups, are governed 
by kinship relations. The kinship system also serves to stabilize 
relations among different bands and groups of bands. The individ- 
ual tribesman is placed in the center of ever-widening circles of 
kinship relations that, in theory at least, eventually link him with 
all other tribesmen within a particular region of the country, that 
is, with all tribesmen with whom he is likely to come into contact. 

Within the basic tribal unit — the nomadic band — the individu- 
al's status is ascribed at birth in terms of the kinship relations existing 
between him and all other members of his band. He is considered 
subordinate to his elder kin and equal to his age-mates. However, 


A settled beduin family living in Al Qamishli 
Courtesy Susan Carter 

a tribesman may gain prestige because of his special skills at riding 
horses, hunting, herding animals, or handling men — particularly 
in the settlement of disputes. His standing within the band will 
also be enhanced by his relative wealth in terms of the kind and 
number of animals and the special gear and equipment he owns. 
Beduin in Syria are not considered poor or underprivileged peo- 
ple; in fact, many beduin tribes are regarded as very wealthy by 
Syrian standards because of their ownership of large flocks of 
sheep — a valuable commodity. 

High-prestige animals are horses, camels, sheep, and goats, in 
that order. A tribesman who owns a horse has more prestige than 
one who does not; one who has two horses is more esteemed than 
another who has only one. Otherwise, the relative social differences 
between tribesmen, other than for members of the lineage of the 
mukhtars and of the shaykh, are slight. 

The mukhtar has a special, superior relationship to other tribes- 
men in that band; he is elected from among the adult male mem- 
bers of a specific lineage segment within the band. Generally the 
most prominent member of the lineage segment, he is selected by 
his close kin and approved by the tribesmen at large and by the 
leaders of the superordinate tribal group. Although the office of 
mukhtar does not necessarily pass from father to son, it tends to 
remain within the same lineage segment. This lineage segment is 


Syria: A Country Study 

likely to have a good deal of the band's wealth in terms of animals 
and gear and probably most of the money to be found within the 

The mukhtar exerts most of his influence as the leader in the majlis 
(tribal council), which is composed of all adult males of the band, 
and the views of its most senior and respected members carry the 
most weight in council. The mukhtar holds open majlis daily in his 
guest tent, where the tribesmen discuss all matters of importance 
to the band. In addition, individual tribesmen appear before the 
majlis to air their own problems and to press grievances against 
fellow tribesmen. The mukhtar and his majlis try to solve all these 
problems and disputes within the tribal unit. 

When settlement within the band is not reached or when the dis- 
pute involves members of two or more bands, the problem becomes 
a matter for consideration by the leaders of superordinate tribal 
groups, who stand in a senior position both to the mukhtar of the 
single band and to the parties to the dispute. Final appeal is to the 
paramount shaykh of the entire tribe. The Kurdish tribal groups 
have essentially the same structure as the Arab tribes but apply 
different titles to their leaders, and their political and economic tribal 
unit appears to be smaller than that common among Arabs. 

The Individual, the Family, and the Sexes 

Syrian life centers on the extended family. The individual's 
loyalty to family is nearly absolute and usually overrides all other 
obligations. Except in the more sophisticated urban circles, the 
individual's social standing depends on family background. 
Although status is changing within the emerging middle class, 
ascribed rather than achieved status still regulates the average Syri- 
an's life. An individual's honor and dignity are tied to the good 
repute of the kin-group and, especially, to that of its women. 

Gender is one of the most important determinants of social status 
in Arab society. Although the traditional seclusion of women is not 
strictly observed in most parts of the country, social contact between 
the sexes is limited. Among Muslims, men and women in effect 
constitute distinct social subgroups, intersecting only in the home. 
A strict division of labor by sex is observed in most social environ- 
ments, with the exception of certain circumscribed professional 
activities performed by educated urban women. The roles of the 
sexes in family life differ markedly, as do the social expectations. 
The differences are expressed and fostered in child rearing, ideol- 
ogy, and daily life. 

Because of the cohesiveness of religious and ethnic groups, they 
universally encourage endogamy, or the marriage of members 


The Society and Its Environment 

within the group. Lineages, or groups of families tracing descent 
to a common ancestor, also strive for endogamy, although this is 
in fact less common, despite its theoretical desirability. Viewed as 
a practical bond between families, marriage often has political and 
economic overtones even among the poor. 

Descent is traced through men, or patrilineally, in all groups. 
In addition, the individual household is based on blood ties between 
men. Syrians ideally and sentimentally prefer the three-generation 
household consisting of a senior couple; their married sons, 
daughters-in-law, and grandchildren; and their unmarried sons, 
daughters, and other miscellaneous patrilineal relatives. The lat- 
ter might include a widowed mother or widowed or divorced sis- 
ter of the household head or a widow of his brother along with her 
children. At the death of the household head, adult sons establish 
their own homes, each to repeat the pattern. 

This ideal is realized in no more than a quarter of the house- 
holds. Little reliable information is available about the size of house- 
holds, but authorities believe that they average between five and 
seven persons and that city households are slightly smaller than 
rural; among Christians the difference between urban and rural 
household size is more marked than among Muslims. The rela- 
tively large size of the typical household probably results from a 
large number of children and the rarity of single adults living alone; 
children live at home until marriage, and the widowed tend to live 
with their children or other relatives. 

Syrians highly value family solidarity and, consequently, obe- 
dience of children to the wishes of their parents. Young children, 
particularly boys, are often pampered and spoiled. When they 
become young adults, however, their independence and individu- 
ality are regarded as selfish traits, and young people are expected 
to work for the good of their families. Being a good family mem- 
ber includes automatic loyalty to kin as well. Syrians employed in 
modern bureaucratic positions, such as government officials, there- 
fore find impersonal impartiality difficult because it conflicts with 
the deeply held value of family solidarity. 

Syrians have no similar ingrained feelings of loyalty toward a 
job, an employer, a coworker, or even a friend. There is widespread 
conviction that the only reliable people are one's kin. An office- 
holder tends to select his kin as fellow workers or subordinates 
because he feels a sense of responsibility for them and trusts them. 
Commercial establishments are largely family operations staffed 
by the offspring and relatives of the owner. Cooperation among 
business firms may be determined by the presence or absence of 
kinship ties between the heads of firms. When two young men 


A farming family from rural Muzayrib in southwestern Syria 

become very close friends, they often enhance their relationship 
by accepting one another as "brothers," thus placing each in a 
position of special responsibility toward the other. There is no real 
basis for a close relationship except ties of kinship. 

Ideally one should marry within one's lineage. The son or daugh- 
ter of one's father's brother, i.e., one's first cousin, is considered 
the most appropriate mate. Particularly among the beduin, such 
marriages occur frequently. In some communities, a male cousin 
has a presumptive right to marry his female patrilineal first cousin 
and may be paid by another suitor to release her from this obliga- 
tion. In towns, marriage between cousins is common among both 
the wealthiest and the poorest groups. In large metropolitan centers, 
however, the custom is breaking down, especially among the mid- 
dle class. Marriage between first cousins is common among Sun- 
nis, including Kurds and Turkomans, although it is forbidden 
among Circassians. Most Christians forbid marriage between first 
cousins. Nevertheless, those groups that forbid marriage of cou- 
sins still value family endogamy and encourage the marriage of 
more distant relatives. 

Traditionally, in both Muslim and Christian marriages, the 
groom or his family must pay a bride-price (mahr) to the bride or 
her family. The bride-price can be extremely high; it is not unusual 
for a middle-class family to demand of the groom the equivalent 
of several years' salary as the price of marriage to their daughter. 


The Society and Its Environment 

However, this payment is often specified in prenuptial contracts 
to be payable only in the event of a divorce or separation. There- 
fore, the bride-price serves as an alimony fund. The wealthy marry 
within their families not only to preserve the presumed purity of 
their bloodlines but to keep the bride-price within the family, 
whereas the poor do so to avoid bride-price payments. 

Therefore, marriage is customarily arranged. Among the mem- 
bers of the small urban, Westernized community, a man and 
woman participate in the decision making and usually can veto 
the family's choice; but, with rare exceptions, marriage is a familial 
as well as a personal matter. In rural areas, marriage remains a 
family matter, too important to be left to the whims and desires 
of the youthful participants. The preferred marriage is an endoga- 
mous one. Although, until recently, marriages were arranged for 
practical, i.e., nonromantic, reasons, there is a sizable folklore con- 
cerning passionate love affairs and elopements, but such actions 
rarely occur. 

Endogamous marriage and high bride-prices serve as deterrents 
to divorce, counterbalancing the relative ease of divorce authorized 
in Islamic law and tradition. According to sharia, a man may sum- 
marily divorce his wife simply by pronouncing the talaka, or repu- 
diation, three times, although it is far more difficult for a wife to 
divorce her husband. Currently in Syria, a sharia court adjudi- 
cates divorce. Incompatibility is cited most often as justification. 

Seven percent of marriages end in divorce, according to Syrian 
statistics from 1984. The rate varied from a high of 16 percent in 
urban Damascus to a low of 2 percent in rural Al Hasakah. 

If a woman marries within her own lineage, she has the security 
of living among her people, and the demands upon her loyalty are 
simple and direct. If she marries into a different lineage, she is 
among comparative strangers and may also be torn between loyalty 
to her husband's family and lineage and loyalty to her paternal 
kin, particularly if trouble should develop between the two. As a 
wife, she is expected to support her husband and his family, but 
as a daughter — still dependent on the moral support of her father 
and brothers — she may feel compelled to advocate their interest. 
Her father's household always remains open to her, and, in case 
of a dispute with her husband, she may return to her father's 

Except in the small, urban, Westernized segment of society, the 
spheres of men and women tend to be strictly separated, and little 
friendship or companionship exists between the sexes. People seek 
friendship, amusement, and entertainment with their own sex, and 
contact between the two sexes takes place primarily within the home. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Women are viewed as weaker than men in mind, body, and spirit 
and therefore in need of male protection, particularly protection from 
nonrelated men. The honor of men depends largely on that of their 
women, especially on that of their sisters; consequently, the con- 
duct of women is expected to be circumspect, modest, and decorous, 
their virtue above reproach. Veiling is rarely practiced in villages 
or tribes, but in towns and cities keeping one's women secluded and 
veiled was traditionally considered a sign of elevated status. In the 
mid-1980s, the practice of wearing the veil was quite rare among 
young women in cities; however, the wearing of the hijab (a scarf 
covering the hair) was much more common. Wearing the hijab was 
sometimes more a symbol of Islamic affiliation than a token of 
modesty, and the garment underwent a revival in the 1980s as a 
subtle protest against the secular Baath regime. For this reason, the 
government discouraged the wearing of such Islamic apparel. 

The traditional code invests men as members of family groups 
with a highly valuable but easily damaged honor (ird). The slight- 
est implication of unavenged impropriety on the part of the women 
in his family or of male infractions of the code of honesty and hospi- 
tality could irreparably destroy the honor of a family. In particu- 
lar, female virginity before marriage and sexual fidelity afterward 
are essential to the maintenance of honor. In the case of a discovered 
transgression, the men of a family were traditionally bound to kill 
the offending woman, although in modern times she is more likely 
to be banished to a town or city where she is not known. 

There is no evidence that urbanization per se has lessened the 
importance of the concept of honor to the Syrian. The fact that 
town life is still concentrated in the face-to-face context of the quarter 
ensures the survival of the traditional notion of honor as personal 
repute in the community. Some authorities have suggested, how- 
ever, that although urbanization in itself does not threaten the con- 
cept, increased modern secular education will probably do so. 

In common with most traditional societies, traditional Arab 
society tended — and to an unknown extent continues — to put a 
different and higher value on sons than on daughters. The birth 
of a boy is an occasion for great celebration, whereas that of a girl 
is not necessarily so observed. Failure to produce sons may be used 
as grounds for divorcing a wife or taking a second. Barren women, 
therefore, are often desperately eager to bear sons and frequently 
patronize quack healers and medicine men and women. 

Religious Life 

Islam, in addition to being a system of religious beliefs and prac- 
tices, is an all-encompassing way of life. Muslims believe that 


The Society audits Environment 

Allah revealed to the Prophet Muhammad the rules governing 
proper life of the individual and society; therefore, it is incumbent 
upon the individual to live in the manner prescribed by the revealed 
law and upon the community to build the perfect human society 
on earth according to holy injunctions. Ideally, life for a Muslim 
should take place within a religious community. As a consequence, 
in Muslim countries religion has an importance in daily life far 
greater than it has in the West. 

The Prophet enjoined his followers to convert the infidel to the 
true faith. However, he specifically exempted the "people of the 
book," Christians and Jews, whose religions he recognized as form- 
ing the historical basis of Islam; these peoples were to be permit- 
ted to continue their religious observances unimpeded so long as 
they recognized the temporal rule of Muslim authorities, paid their 
taxes, and did not proselytize or otherwise interfere with the prac- 
tice of Islam. 

The Ottoman Empire organized the society of present-day Syria 
around the millet, or autonomous religious community (see Otto- 
man Empire, ch. 1). The non-Muslim people of the book living 
under Muslim occupation were called dhimmis. They paid taxes 
to the government and, in return, were permitted to govern them- 
selves according to their own religious law in matters that did not 
concern Muslims. The religious communities were therefore able 
to preserve a large measure of identity and autonomy. The French 
Mandate continued this system, tending to favor the Christians. 

In matters of personal status, such as birth, marriage, and 
inheritance, the Christian, Jewish, and Druze minorities follow their 
own legal systems. All other groups, in such matters, come under 
the jurisdiction of the Muslim code. 

Although the faiths theoretically enjoy equal legal status, to some 
extent Islam is favored. Despite guarantees of religious freedom, 
some observers maintain that the conditions of the non-Muslim 
minorities have been steadily deteriorating, especially since the June 
1967 War. An instance of this deterioration was the nationaliza- 
tion of over 300 Christian schools, together with approximately 75 
private Muslim schools, in the autumn of 1967. Since the early 
1960s, heavy emigration of Christians has been noted; in fact, some 
authorities state that at least 50 percent of the 600,000 people who 
left during the decade ending in 1968 were Christians. Many Chris- 
tians remaining in the country, fearing that they were viewed with 
suspicion, have attempted to demonstrate their loyalty to and 
solidarity with the state. 

Membership in a religious community is ordinarily determined 
by birth. Because statistics on the size of the various religious 


Syria: A Country Study 

communities were unavailable in 1987, only rough estimates can 
be made. Muslims were estimated as constituting 85 percent of 
the population, although their proportion was possibly greater and 
was certainly growing. The Muslim birthrate reportedly was higher 
than that of the minorities, and proportionately fewer Muslims were 
emigrating abroad. Of the Muslims, 80 to 85 percent were mem- 
bers of the Sunni sect, some 13 to 15 percent were Alawis, and 
approximately 1 percent were Ismailis; Shia groups constituted less 
than 1 percent of the population. 

A striking feature of religious life in Syria is the geographic dis- 
tribution of the religious minorities. Most Christians live in Damas- 
cus and Aleppo, although significant numbers live in Al Hasakah 
Province in northeastern Syria. Nearly 90 percent of the Alawis, 
also known as Nusayris, live in Al Ladhiqiyah Province in the rural 
areas of the Jabal an Nusayriyah; they constitute over 80 percent 
of the rural population of the province. The Jabal al Arab, a rugged 
and mountainous region in the southwest of the country, is more 
than 90 percent Druze inhabited; some 120 villages are exclusively 
so. The Imamis, a Shia sect, are concentrated between Horns and 
Aleppo; they constitute nearly 15 percent of Hamah Province. The 
Ismailis are concentrated in the Salamiyah region of Hamah 
Province; approximately 10,000 more inhabit the mountains of Al 
Ladhiqiyah Province. Most of the remaining Shias live in the 
vicinity of Aleppo. The Jewish community is centered in the Damas- 
cus and Aleppo areas, as are the Yazidis, many of whom inhabit 
the Jabal Siman and about half of whom live in the vicinity of 
Amuda in the Jazirah. 

In addition to the beliefs taught by the organized religions, many 
people believe strongly in powers of good and evil and in the efficacy 
of local saints. The former beliefs are especially marked among the 
beduin, who use amulets, charms, and incantations as protective 
devices against the evil power of jinns (spirits) and the evil eye. 
Belief in saints is widespread among nonbeduin populations. Most 
villages contain a saint's shrine, often the grave of a local person 
considered to have led a particularly exemplary life. Believers, 
especially women, visit these shrines to pray for help, good for- 
tune, and protection. Although the identification of the individual 
with his religious community is strong, belief in saints is not limited 
to one religious group. Persons routinely revere saints who were 
members of other religious communities, and, in many cases, mem- 
bers of various faiths pray at the same shrine. 

Unorthodox religious beliefs of this kind are probably more com- 
mon among women than men. Because they are excluded by the 
social separation of the sexes from much of the formal religious 


The Society and Its Environment 

life of the community, women attempt to meet their own spiritual 
needs through informal and unorthodox religious beliefs and prac- 
tices, which are passed on from generation to generation. 

Religion permeates life in all but the most sophisticated social 
groups. The Syrian tends to view religion instrumentally, depending 
on the deity and subsidiary powers to aid in times of trouble, solve 
problems, and ensure success. The terms bismallah (in the name 
of Allah) and inshallah (if Allah is willing) are commonly heard, 
expressing the individual's literal dependence on divine powers for 
his well-being. 


In A.D. 610, Muhammad (later known as the Prophet), a mer- 
chant belonging to the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh 
tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca, began to preach the first of 
a series of revelations granted him by God through the angel 
Gabriel. A fervent monotheist, Muhammad denounced the poly- 
theistic paganism of his fellow Meccans. However, because the 
town's economy was based in part on a thriving pilgrimage busi- 
ness to the shrine called the Kaabah and numerous other pagan 
religious sites located there, his vigorous and continuing censure 
eventually earned him the bitter enmity of the town's leaders. In 
622 he and a group of followers accepted an invitation to settle in 
the town of Yathrib, later known as Medina (meaning the city) 
because it was the center of Muhammad's activities. The move, 
or hijra, known in the West as the Hegira, marks the beginning 
of the Islamic era and of Islam as a historical force. The Muslim 
calendar, based on the lunar year, thus begins in 622. In Medina, 
Muhammad continued to preach, eventually defeated his detrac- 
tors in battle, and consolidated both the temporal and the spiritual 
leadership of all Arabia in his hands before his death in 632. 

The shahada (testimony, creed) succinctly states the central belief 
of Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is 
his Prophet." Muslims repeat this simple profession of faith on 
many ritual occasions, and a recital in full and unquestioning sin- 
cerity designates one a Muslim. The God depicted by Muham- 
mad was not previously unknown to his countrymen, for Allah is 
Arabic for "God" rather than a particular name. Rather than intro- 
ducing a new deity, Muhammad denied the existence of the many 
minor gods and spirits worshiped before his ministry and declared 
the omnipotence of the unique creator, God. According to Islam, 
God is invisible and omnipresent; to represent him in any visual 
symbol is a sin. Events in the world flow ineluctably from his will; 
to resist it is both futile and sinful. 


One of the many mosques 
found throughout Syria 
Courtesy Michael Eisenstadt 

Islam means submission (to God), and he who submits is a Mus- 
lim. According to its doctrine, Muhammad is the "seal of the 
prophets"; his revelation is said to complete for all time the series 
of biblical revelations received by Jews and Christians. God is 
believed to have remained one and the same throughout time, but 
men had strayed from his true teachings until set right by Muham- 
mad. Prophets and sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abra- 
ham, Moses, and Jesus (known in Arabic as Ibrahim, Musa, and 
Isa, respectively) are recognized as inspired vehicles of God's will. 
Islam, however, reveres as sacred only the message, rejecting Chris- 
tianity's deification of the messenger, Jesus. It accepts the concepts 
of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment (or last day), general resur- 
rection, heaven and hell, and eternal life of the soul. 

The duties of the Muslim form the five pillars of the faith. These 
are the recitation of the shahada\ daily prayer (salat); almsgiving 
(zakat); fasting (sawm); and hajj, or pilgrimage. After purification 
through ritual ablutions, the believer is to pray in a prescribed man- 
ner each day at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and night- 
fall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the 
prayers, which the worshiper recites facing toward Mecca. When- 
ever possible, men pray in congregation at the mosque with the 
imam (see Glossary) and on Fridays make a special effort to do 
so. The Friday noon prayers provide the occasion for weekly ser- 
mons by religious leaders. Women may also attend public worship 


The Society and Its Environment 

at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, although 
more frequently women pray at home. A special functionary, the 
muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the 
appropriate hour; those out of earshot determine the proper time 
by the sun. Public prayer is a conspicuous and widely practiced 
aspect of Islam in Syria, particularly in rural areas. 

In the early days of Islam, a Muslim's obligation to give alms 
was fulfilled through the tax on personal property proportionate 
to one's wealth imposed by the authorities; this tax was distributed 
to the mosques and to the needy. Today, however, almsgiving has 
become a more private matter. Many pious individuals have con- 
tributed properties to support religious and charitable activities or 
institutions, which traditionally were administered as inalienable 
waqfs (foundations, or religious endowments). 

The ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar is Ramadan, 
a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's 
receipt of God's revelation, the Quran. Throughout the month, 
all but the sick, the weak, pregnant or lactating women, soldiers 
on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are 
enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse 
during the daylight hours. Those adults excused are obligated to 
undertake an equivalent fast at their earliest opportunity. A fes- 
tive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting 
and celebration. Owing to the lunar calendar, Ramadan falls at 
various seasons in different years; when it falls in summer, it 
imposes severe hardships on manual laborers. 

Finally, at least once in their lifetime all Muslims should, if pos- 
sible, make the hajj to Mecca to participate in special rites during 
the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. The Prophet instituted 
this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom to emphasize sites 
associated with Allah and Abraham, founder of monotheism and 
father of the Arabs through his son Ishmael. 

Once in Mecca, pilgrims, dressed in the white seamless ihram, 
abstain from sexual relations, shaving, haircutting, and nail par- 
ing for the duration of the hajj . Highlights of the pilgrimage include 
kissing the sacred black stone; circumambulating the Kaabah, the 
sacred structure reputedly built by Abraham that houses the stone; 
running seven times between the mountains Safa and Marwa in 
imitation of Hagar, Ishmael' s mother, during her travail in the 
desert; and standing in prayer on Mount Arafat. The returning 
pilgrim is entitled to the honorific "hajj" before his name. Id al 
Adha, a major festival celebrated worldwide, marks the end of the 
hajj month. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Jihad, the permanent struggle for the triumph of the word of 
God on earth, represents an additional general duty for all Mus- 
lims and is construed by some as a sixth pillar of the faith. Although 
in the past this concept has been used to justify holy wars, modern 
Muslims see it in the broader context of civic and personal action. 
In addition to specific duties, Islam imposes an ethical code encour- 
aging generosity, fairness, honesty, respect for the elderly and those 
in authority, and forbidding adultery, gambling, usury, and the 
consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol. 

A Muslim stands in a personal relationship to God; there are 
neither intermediaries nor clergy in orthodox Islam. Those who 
lead prayers, preach sermons, and interpret the law do so by vir- 
tue of their superior knowledge and scholarship rather than because 
of any special powers or prerogatives conferred by ordination. 

During his lifetime, Muhammad held both spiritual and tem- 
poral leadership of the Muslim community and established the con- 
cept of Islam as a total and all-encompassing way of life. Islam 
traditionally has recognized no distinction between religion and 
state. Religious and secular life merged, as did religious and secu- 
lar law. In keeping with this concept of society, all Muslims have 
been traditionally subject to sharia, or religious law. A compre- 
hensive legal system, sharia developed gradually during the first 
four centuries of Islam, primarily through the accretion of prece- 
dent and interpretation by various judges and scholars. During the 
tenth century, legal opinion began to harden into authoritative doc- 
trine, and the figurative bob al ijtihad (gate of interpretation) gradu- 
ally closed. Thenceforth, rather than encouraging flexibility, Islamic 
law emphasized maintenance of the status quo. 

In 632, after Muhammad's death, the leaders of the Muslim com- 
munity consensually chose Abu Bakr, the Prophet's father-in-law 
and one of his earliest followers, to succeed him. At that time, some 
persons favored Ali, the Prophet's cousin and husband of his favorite 
daughter, Fatima, but Ali and his supporters (the so-called Shiat 
Ali, or party of Ali) eventually recognized the community's choice. 
The next two caliphs (from the Arabic word khalifa; literally, suc- 
cessor) — Umar, who succeeded in 634, and Uthman, who took 
power in 644 — enjoyed the recognition of the entire community. 
When Ali finally succeeded to the caliphate in 656, Muawiyah, 
governor of Syria, rebelled in the name of his murdered kinsman 
Uthman. After the ensuing civil war, Ali moved his capital to 
Mesopotamia, where in a short time he was murdered (see Mus- 
lim Empires, ch. 1). 

Ali's was the last of the so-called four orthodox caliphates, the 
period during which the entire community of Islam recognized a 


The Society and Its Environment 

single caliph. In Damascus, Muawiyah then proclaimed himself 
caliph. The Shiat Ali, however, refused to recognize Muawiyah 
or his line, the Umayyad caliphs. In the first great schism, the Shiat 
Ali withdrew and established a dissident sect known as the Shias 
(also known as Shiites), supporting the claims of Ali's line to a 
presumptive right to the caliphate based on descent from the 
Prophet. The major faction of Islam, the Sunni, adhered to the 
position of election of the caliph; over the centuries the Sunnis have 
represented themselves, and have come to be identified, as the more 
orthodox of the two branches. 

Originally political, the differences between the Sunni and Shia 
interpretations rapidly took on theological and metaphysical over- 
tones. Ali's two sons, Hasan and Husayn, killed after the schism, 
became martyred heroes to the Shias and thus repositories of the 
claim of Ali's line to mystical preeminence among Muslims. The 
Sunnis retained the doctrine of leadership by consensus, although 
Arabs and members of the Quraysh, Muhammad's tribe, predomi- 
nated in the early years. (Reputed descent from the Prophet still 
carries great social and religious prestige throughout the Muslim 
world.) Meanwhile, the Shia doctrine of rule by divine right became 
more and more firmly established, and disagreements over which 
of several pretenders had the truer claim to the mystical power of 
Ali precipitated further schisms. Some Shia groups developed doc- 
trines of divine leadership far removed from the strict monothe- 
ism of early Islam, including beliefs in hidden but divinely chosen 
leaders and in spiritual powers that equaled or surpassed those of 
the Prophet himself. 

Fueled both by fervor for the new faith and by economic and 
social factors, the early Islamic polity was intensely expansionist. 
Conquering armies and migrating tribes swept out of Arabia, 
spreading Islam with the sword as much as by persuasion, and by 
the end of Islam's first century, Islamic armies had reached far 
into North Africa and eastward and northward into Asia. Syria 
was among the first countries to come under the sway of Islam; 
by 635 Muslim armies had conquered Damascus. 

In Islam, the Quran is the principal source of religious law, sup- 
plemented by the Sunna, which sets forth the perfect example of 
the Prophet as represented by his deeds, his teachings and deci- 
sions, and his unspoken approval as reported by witnesses. In 
addition to "Allah's Quran and the Prophet's Sunna," the hadith 
records the deeds, teachings, legal interpretations, and consensual 
decisions by the Prophet's companions in the period immediately 
after his death. 


Syria: A Country Study 


The largest religious group in Syria is the Sunni Muslims, of 
whom about 80 percent are native Syrian Arabs, the remainder 
being Kurds, Turkomans, Circassians, and Palestinians. Sunni 
Islam sets the religious tone for Syria and provides the country's 
basic values. 

Sunnis follow nearly all occupations, belong to all social groups 
and nearly every political party, and live in all parts of the coun- 
try. There are only two provinces in which they are not a major- 
ity: As Suwayda, where Druzes predominate, and Al Ladhiqiyah, 
where Alawis are a majority. In Al Hasakah, Sunnis form a major- 
ity, but most of them are Kurds rather than Arabs. 

In theory, a Sunni approaches God directly because the religion 
provides no intercession of saints, no holy orders, no organized 
clerical hierarchy, and no true liturgy. In practice, however, there 
are duly appointed religious figures, some of whom exert consider- 
able social and political power. Among them are men of impor- 
tance in the community who lead prayers and give sermons at 
Friday services. Although in the larger mosques the imams are 
generally well-educated men who are informed about political and 
social affairs, an imam need not have any formal training. Among 
beduin, for example, any literate member of the tribe may read 
prayers from the Quran. Committees of socially prominent wor- 
shipers usually run the major mosques and administer mosque- 
owned land and gifts. 

The Muslim year has two canonical festivals — the Id al Adha, 
or "sacrificial" festival on the tenth of Dhu al Hijjah, the twelfth 
Muslim month; and the Id al Fitr, or "festival of breaking the fast," 
which celebrates the end of the fast of Ramadan on the first of 
Shawwal, the tenth month. Both festivals last three or four days, 
during which people wear their best clothes, visit and congratu- 
late each other, and give gifts. People visit cemeteries, often 
remaining for some hours, even throughout the night. The festival 
of the Id al Fitr is celebrated more joyfully than the Id al Adha 
because it marks the end of the hardships of Ramadan. Lesser 
celebrations take place on the Prophet's birthday, which falls on 
the twelfth of Rabia al Awwal, the third month, and on the first 
of Muharram, the beginning of the Muslim new year. 

Islamic law provides direction in all aspects of life. There are 
four major schools of Islamic law — the Hanafi, the Hanbali, the 
Shafii, and the Maliki — each named after its founder and all held 
to be officially valid. Any Muslim may belong to any one of them, 
although one school usually dominates a given geographical area. 


The Society and Its Environment 

The schools agree on the four recognized sources of law — the 
Quran, the Sunna, the consensus of the faithful (ijma), and analogy 
(qiyas) — but differ in the degree of emphasis they give to each source. 
Represented in Syria are the Shafii school and the more liberal 
Hanafi school, which places greater emphasis on analogical deduc- 
tion and bases decisions more on precedents set in previous cases 
than on literal interpretation of the Quran or Sunna. 

Conservative Sunni leaders look to the ancient days of Islam 
for secular guidance. Only since the first quarter of the twentieth 
century have Syrian Sunnis become acutely aware of the need for 
modern education. Therefore, secularization is spreading among 
Sunnis, especially the younger ones in urban areas and in the mili- 
tary services. After the first coup d'etat in 1949, the waqfs were 
taken out of private religious hands and put under government con- 
trol. Civil codes have greatly modified the authority of Islamic laws, 
and the educational role of Muslim religious leaders is declining 
with the gradual disappearance of kuttabs, the traditional mosque- 
affiliated schools. 

Despite civil codes introduced in the past years, Syria maintains 
a dual system of sharia and civil courts (see The Judiciary, ch. 4). 
Hanafi law applies in sharia courts, and non-Muslim communities 
have their own religious courts using their own religious law. 


Shia Islam is often viewed as a deviant or heretical form of 
orthodox Islam. However, Shia Islam is the result of schism, and, 
as scholars correctly observe, the elements for a Shia interpreta- 
tion of Islam are present in the Quran as well as in the hadith. 
The catalyst for Shia Islam's development was the political tur- 
moil over a temporal successor to Muhammad and the ensuing 
murders of Ali and his sons. Shias maintain, however, that Sunni- 
Shia polemics are not as much about who should have succeeded 
the Prophet as about the function of the office of the successor and 
the qualifications of the man to hold it. 

Shia Islam's distinctive institution is the Imamate, which holds 
that the successor of the Prophet is more than a political leader. 
He must have walayat, the ability to interpret the inner mysteries 
of the Quran and sharia; only those who are free from error and 
sin (masum) and have been chosen by God (nass) through the Prophet 
possess walayat. 

The five Shia principles of religion consist of the following: belief 
in divine unity (tawhid); prophecy (nubuwwah); resurrection (maad); 
divine justice (adl)\ and the belief in the Imams (see Glossary) as 


Syria: A Country Study 

successors of the Prophet (imamah). The latter principle is not 
accepted by Sunnis. 

Implied in the Shia principle of the imamah is that imams are 
imbued with a redemptive quality as a result of their sufferings 
and martyrdoms. And, although imams are not divine, they are 
sinless and infallible in matters of faith and morals, principles very 
similar to the notion of papal infallibility in the Roman Catholic 
Church. That an individual needs an intermediary with God is 
an Iranian idea that long predates Islam, as is the idea of a savior 
or messiah (mahdi) who will come to redeem man and cleanse the 
world. To expect that the mahdi, who is the last (twelfth) Imam, 
really will come is a religious virtue (intizar). 

The Imamate began with Ali, because it is his descendants who 
are the Imams. To justify their beliefs, Shias emphasize the close 
lifetime association of the Prophet and Ali. When Ali was six years 
old, the Prophet invited Ali to live with him, and he is considered 
by Shias to be the first to make the declaration of faith to Islam. 
He also slept in the Prophet's bed on the night of the hijra, when 
it was assumed that the house would be attacked by unbelievers 
and the Prophet stabbed to death. Ali fought in all except one bat- 
tle with the Prophet, and the Prophet chose Ali as the husband 
of his favorite daughter. Also regarded as especially significant is 
a hadith that records the Prophet as saying: "God placed the chil- 
dren of all the prophets in their backbone but placed my children 
in the backbone of Ali." 

Most Shia religious practices are comparable to those of Sunni 
Islam. There are, however, two distinctive and frequently mis- 
understood Shia practices: mutah, temporary marriage, and taqiyah, 
religious dissimulation. Mutah, that is, marriage with a fixed ter- 
mination contract subject to renewal, was practiced by Muslims 
as early as the formation of the first Muslim community at Medina. 
Banned by the second caliph, it has since been unacceptable to Sun- 
nis, but Shias insist that if it were against Islamic law, it would 
not have been practiced in early Islam. Mutah differs from perma- 
nent marriage in that it does not require divorce proceedings for 
termination because the contractual parties have agreed on its span, 
which can be as short as an evening or as long as a lifetime. By 
making the mutah, a couple places the sexual act within the con- 
text of sharia; the act then is not considered adulterous, and off- 
spring are considered legitimate heirs of the man. 

Taqiyah is another practice condemned by the Sunni as cowardly 
and irreligious but encouraged by Shia Islam and also practiced 
by Alawis and Ismailis. One resorts to taqiyah either to hide one's 
religion or disavow certain religious practices to escape danger from 


The Society and Its Environment 

opponents of one's beliefs. Taqiyah can also be practiced when not 
to do so would bring danger to the honor of the female members 
of a household or when a man could be made destitute as a result 
of his beliefs. Because of the persecution frequently experienced 
by Shia imams, particularly during the period of the Umayyad and 
Abbasid caliphates, taqiyah has been continually reinforced. 

Shias play only a minor role in Syrian politics. They are among 
the least educated religious groups, and their members are more 
resistant to change. In religious affairs, they look to Shia centers 
in Iraq, especially Karbala and An Najaf, and to Iran. However, 
Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and Syria's alliance with Iran in 
its war with Iraq have elevated the prestige of Syria's Shia minority. 
As hundreds of Iranian tourists began to visit Damascus each week, 
the Shia shrine of the tomb of Sitt az Zaynab, daughter of the 
Prophet Muhammad, located in the Al Ghutah region outside 
Damascus, became a major pilgrimage destination, replacing those 
areas no longer accessible in Iraq. However, the government of 
Syria has viewed with caution the resurgence of Shia Islamic fervor 
in Syria and has taken steps to dampen it. 


The Ismailis are an offshoot of Shia Islam, the split having 
occurred over the recognition of the Seventh Imam. Shia Twelvers, 
those who accept the first Twelve Imams, believe that Jafar, the 
Sixth Imam, passed over his eldest son, Ismail, in favor of Ismail's 
brother Musa al Kazim. Ismailis, however, believe that Jafar 
appointed Ismail to be the Seventh Imam — hence Ismailis are often 
called Seveners. Little is known of the early history of the sect, but 
it was firmly established by the end of the ninth century. From 
969 to 1171, an Ismaili dynasty, the Fatimids, ruled as caliphs in 

Ismailis are divided into two major groups, the Mustafians and 
the Misaris. The Ismailis of Syria, numbering about 200,000, are 
predominantly Misaris; this group gained prominence during the 
Crusades when a mystical society of Misaris, called Assassins, 
harassed both the Crusaders and Saladin (Salah ad Din al Ayyubi). 
The Misari Ismaili community has continued in Syria to the present 
day and recognizes the Aga Khan as its head. The Mirzahs are 
the leading family in the community. 

Originally clustered in Al Ladhiqiyah Province, most of the Syrian 
Ismailis have resettled south of Salamiyah on land granted to the 
Ismaili community by Abdul Hamid II, sultan of the Ottoman 
Empire from 1876 to 1909. A few thousand Ismailis live in the moun- 
tains west of Hamah, and about 5,000 are in Al Ladhiqiyah. 


Syria: A Country Study 

The western mountain group is poor and suffers from overpopu- 
lation and limited land — resulting in a drift toward the wealthier 
eastern areas as well as seasonal migration to the Salamiyah area, 
where many of them find employment at harvest-time. The 
wealthier Ismailis of Salamiyah have fertile and well-watered land 
and are regarded as clannish, proud, and tough. 

Ismailis accept many Shia doctrines, such as the esoteric nature 
of truth and the inspiration of the Imams. Although holding their 
Imams to be of divine origin, as the Shias do, Ismailis have a dual 
Imamate. They believe the succession of visible Imams has con- 
tinued to the present. There are, however, two imams, the visible 
and the hidden, the speaker and the silent. The identity of the hid- 
den imam is not known to the community, but it is believed he 
will return to lead the faithful. Ismailis generally follow the reli- 
gious practice of the Shia Twelvers in prayers, fasts, and Quranic 
prescriptions, but in their conservatism they resemble Sunnis on 
some points. For example, they do not observe the tenth of 
Muharram in the impassioned way of the Shias. 


The Alawis, or Nusayris, who number about 1.4 million, con- 
stitute Syria's largest religious minority. They live chiefly along 
the coast in Al Ladhiqiyah Province, where they form over 60 per- 
cent of the rural population; the city of Latakia itself is largely Sunni. 
The Alawis appear to be descendants of people who lived in this 
region at the time of Alexander the Great. When Christianity 
flourished in the Fertile Crescent, the Alawis, isolated in their lit- 
tle communities, clung to their own pre-Islamic religion. After 
hundreds of years of Ismaili influence, the Alawis moved closer 
to Islam. However, contacts with the Byzantines and the Crusaders 
added Christian elements to the Alawis' new creeds and practices. 
For example, Alawis celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Epiphany 
and use sacramental wine in some ceremonies. For several centu- 
ries, the Alawis enjoyed autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, 
but, in the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottomans imposed direct 
rule. Regarding the Alawis as infidels, the Ottomans consistently 
persecuted them and imposed heavy taxation. During the French 
Mandate, the Alawis briefly gained territorial autonomy, but direct 
rule was reimposed in 1936. 

For centuries, the Alawis constituted Syria's most repressed and 
exploited minority. Most were indentured servants and tenant farm- 
ers or sharecroppers working for Sunni landowners. However, after 
President Assad, an Alawi, and his retinue came to power in 1970, 
the well-being of the Alawis improved considerably. 


The Society and Its Environment 

Split by sectional rivalries, the Alawis have no single, powerful 
ruling family, but since independence many individual Alawis have 
attained power and prestige as military officers. Although they are 
settled cultivators, Alawis gather into kin-groups much like those 
of pastoral nomads. The four Alawi confederations, each divided 
into tribes, are Kalbiyah, Khaiyatin, Haddadin, and Matawirah. 

Alawis claim they are Muslims, but conservative Sunnis do not 
always recognize them as such. Like Ismaili Shias, Alawis believe 
in a system of divine incarnation. Unlike Ismailis, Alawis regard 
Ali as the incarnation of the deity in the divine triad. As such, Ali 
is the "Meaning"; Muhammad, whom Ali created of his own light, 
is the "Name"; and Salman the Persian is the "Gate." Alawi 
catechesis is expressed in the formula: "I turn to the Gate; I bow 
before the Name; I adore the Meaning." An Alawi prays in a man- 
ner patterned after the shahada: "I testify that there is no God but 

According to Alawi belief, all persons at first were stars in the 
world of light but fell from the firmament through disobedience. 
Faithful Alawis believe they must be transformed seven times before 
returning to take a place among the stars, where Ali is the prince. 
If blameworthy, they are sometimes reborn as Christians, among 
whom they remain until atonement is complete. Infidels are reborn 
as animals. 

Because many of the tenets of the faith are secret, Alawis have 
refused to discuss their faith with outsiders. Only an elect few learn 
the religion after a lengthy process of initiation; youths are initiated 
into the secrets of the faith in stages. Their prayer book, the source 
of religious instruction, is the Kitab al Majmu, believed to be 
derived from Ismaili writings. Alawis study the Quran and recog- 
nize the five pillars of Islam, which they interpret in a wholly alle- 
gorical sense to fit community tenets. 

Alawis do not set aside a particular building for worship. In the 
past, Sunni government officials forced them to build mosques, 
but these were invariably abandoned. Only the men take part in 


In 1987 the Druze community, at 3 percent of the population 
the country's third largest religious minority, continued to be the 
overwhelming majority in the Jabal al Arab, a rugged and moun- 
tainous region in southwestern Syria. 

The Druze religion is a tenth-century offshoot of Islam, but Mus- 
lims view Druzes as heretical for accepting the divinity of Hakim, 
the third Fatimid caliph of Egypt. The group takes its names from 


Syria: A Country Study 

Muhammad ibn Ismail ad Darazi, an Iranian mystic. Druzes regard 
Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, as their chief prophet and make 
annual pilgrimages to his tomb in lower Galilee. They also revere 
Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, the three most important prophets 
of Islam. 

The Druzes have always kept their doctrine and ritual a secret 
to avoid persecution. Only those who demonstrate extreme piety 
and devotion and the correct demeanor are initiated into the mys- 
teries. The initiated (uqqal\ sing., aqil) are a very small minority 
and may include women. Most Druzes arejuhhal, ignorant ones. 
Apparently the religion is complex, involving neo-Platonic thought, 
Sufi mysticism, and Iranian religious traditions. 

Endogamy and monogamy are the rule among the Druzes. Until 
recently, most girls were married between the ages of twelve and 
fifteen, and most men at the age of sixteen or seventeen. Women 
are veiled in public, but, in contrast to Muslim Arab custom, they 
can and do participate in the councils of elders. 


The Christian communities of Syria, which comprise about ten 
percent of the population, spring from two great traditions. Because 
both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism were introduced by 
missionaries, a small number of Syrians are members of Western 
denominations. The vast majority, however, belong to the Eastern 
communions, which have existed in Syria since the earliest days 
of Christianity. The main Eastern groups are the autonomous 
Orthodox churches; the Uniate churches, which are in commun- 
ion with Rome; and the independent Nestorian church. Even 
though each group forms a separate community, Christians 
nevertheless cooperate increasingly, largely because of their fear 
of the Muslim majority. 

The schisms that brought about the many sects resulted from 
political and doctrinal disagreements. The doctrine most commonly 
at issue was the nature of Christ. In 431 the Nestorians broke away 
because of their belief in the dual character of Christ, i.e., that 
he had two separate but equal natures, the human Jesus and the 
divine Christ. Therefore, Mary was not the mother of God but 
only of the man Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon, representing 
the mainstream of Christianity, in 451 confirmed the dual nature 
of Christ in one person; Mary was therefore the mother of a single 
person, mystically and simultaneously both human and divine. 

The Monophysites, another schismatic group, taught that 
Christ's divinity overpowered his humanity, resulting in a single 
divine nature. They were the precursors of the present-day Syrian 


The Society and Its Environment 

and Armenian Orthodox churches. The Monothelites tried to evolve 
a compromise by postulating that Christ had two natures, human 
and divine, but only a single divine will. 

By the thirteenth century, Eastern (or Greek) Christianity had 
irrevocably separated from Western (or Latin) Christianity. In the 
following centuries, however, especially during the Crusades, some 
offshoots of the Eastern churches accepted the authority of the pope 
in Rome and entered into communion with Roman Catholic Chris- 
tianity. Today called the Uniate churches, they retain a distinc- 
tive language and liturgy. 

The largest Christian denomination in Syria is the Greek 
Orthodox, the Syrian branch being known as the Greek Ortho- 
dox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The principal lan- 
guage of the liturgy is Arabic. The members of the Syrian Orthodox 
(or Jacobite) Church, whose liturgy is in Syriac, are Monophy- 
sites. Syrians of Armenian origin tend to belong to the Armenian 
Apostolic Church, the orthodox national church of Armenia. It uses 
an Armenian liturgy, and its doctrine is Monophysite. 

Of the Uniate churches, the oldest is the Maronite, which has 
ties to Rome dating to the twelfth century. This group originally 
held to the Monothelite heresy but in 1215 renounced it. The liturgy 
is in Syriac. 

The largest Uniate church in Syria is the Greek Catholic Church, 
sometimes called the Melchite, and is an offshoot of the Greek 
Orthodox Church. It uses the Byzantine liturgy in Arabic. The 
Syrian Catholic Church is a Uniate offshoot of the Syrian Ortho- 
dox Church and uses the seventeenth-century liturgy of Saint James 
and some readings in Arabic. In contrast to the Uniate Chaldean 
Catholics, who derive from the Nestorian church, the Nestorians, 
descendants of the ancient Nestorian schismatics, have their own 
very ancient liturgy and maintain a special relationship with the 
Anglican Communion. 

With the exception of the Armenians and Assyrians, most Chris- 
tians are Arab, sharing the pride of Muslims in the Islamic- Arabic 
tradition and in Syria's special role in that tradition. Many Chris- 
tians, particularly the Eastern Orthodox, have joined in the Arab 
nationalist movement. More Syrian Arab Christians participate 
in proportion to their number in political and administrative affairs 
than do Muslims. Especially among the young, relations between 
Christians and Muslims are improving. 

There are several social differences between Christians and Mus- 
lims. For example, Syrian Christians are more highly urbanized 
than Muslims; many live either in or around Damascus, Aleppo, 
Hamah, and Latakia, and there are relatively fewer of them in the 


Syria: A Country Study 

lower income groups. Proportionately more Christians than Mus- 
lims are educated beyond the primary level, and there are rela- 
tively more of them in white-collar and professional occupations. 
The education that Christians receive has differed in kind from 
that of Muslims in the sense that many more Christian children 
have attended Western-oriented foreign and private schools. 

Other Minorities 


Most Jews now living in the Arab world belong to communities 
dating back to Old Testament times or originating as colonies of 
refugees fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. In Syria, Jews of both ori- 
gins, numbering altogether about 3,000 in 1987, are found. A 
Syrian Jew is Arabic-speaking and is barely distinguishable from 
the Arabs around him. In Syria, as elsewhere, the degree to which 
Jews submit to the disciplines of their religion varies. 

The government treats the Jews as a religious community and 
not as an ethnic group. Official documents refer to them as 
musawiyin (followers of Moses) and not yahudin (Jews). The govern- 
ment's translation into English of musawiyin is "Judists." 

Although the Jewish community continues to exercise a certain 
amount of authority over the personal status of its members, as 
a whole it is under considerable restriction, more because of politi- 
cal factors than religious ones. The economic freedom of Jews is 
limited, and they are under continual surveillance by the police. 
Their situation, although not good before the June 1967 War, has 
reportedly deteriorated considerably since then. 


In 1964 there were about 10,000 Yazidis in Syria, primarily in 
the Jazirah region and in Aleppo; reliable population data were 
not available in 1987. Once seminomadic, most Yazidis now are 
settled; they have no great chiefs and, although Kurdish speak- 
ing, gradually are being assimilated into the surrounding Arab 

The Yazidis are believed to be of Kurdish ethnic stock. Yazidis, 
however, believe themselves to be a people apart from the human 
race, not descended from Adam and Eve. According to their own 
tradition, the Yazidis originated in southern Iraq and migrated to 
their present-day mountainous stronghold — Jabal Sinjar in northern 
Iraq — at the end of fourteenth century, where they adopted the 
Kurdish language. Although some 70,000 Yazidis are scattered in 
Iraq, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus Mountains of the Soviet Union, 


The Society and Its Environment 

and Syria, Iraq remains the center of their religious life, the home 
of their amir, and the site (north of Al Mawsil) of their most revered 
saint, Shaykh Adi. 

The etymology of the name Yazidi is obscure. According to some 
sources, it derives from the name of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid 
ibn Muawiyah (died 683), who is regarded as a historical patron 
of the religion. Other sources ascribe the name to the modern Farsi 
word izeSj meaning angel or deity. Yazidis are referred to in Syria, 
and call themselves, Dawasin, after the old geographic name of 
a region in northern Iraq. 

The Yazidi faith is secret and contains elements of Judaism, 
Christianity, and Islam, as well as paganism and occultism; Yazi- 
dis consider the Bible and the Quran sacred. Yazidis are often 
called, somewhat inaccurately, "devil worshipers" by other Syri- 
ans. Yazidi rites involve placating an angel, called Malik Taus and 
symbolized as a sacred peacock, who fell from grace and after repen- 
tance in hell was restored to God's favor. This central Yazidi belief 
probably derived in part from the Christian concept of Satan. 
However, it was also influenced by notions of redemption, resur- 
rection, and immortality, of which the peacock, like the phoenix, 
is an ancient Middle Eastern pagan symbol. 


Since 1967 all Syrian schools, colleges, and universities have been 
under close government supervision. The Ministry of Education 
and the Ministry of Higher Education are primarily responsible 
for all aspects of administration, including curriculum development. 

Schooling is divided into six years of compulsory primary edu- 
cation, three years of lower secondary education, and three years 
of upper secondary education. General secondary education offers 
academic courses and prepares students for university entrance; 
the last two years of this stage are divided into literary and scien- 
tific streams. Vocational secondary training offers courses in 
industry, agriculture, commerce, and primary-school-teacher train- 
ing. The usual entrance age for secondary schooling is fifteen but 
is fourteen for teacher training institutions. This system was estab- 
lished in 1967, when the country signed the Arab Cultural Unity 
Agreement with Jordan and Egypt, introducing a uniform school 
ladder in the three countries and determining curriculum exami- 
nation procedures and teacher training requirements for each level. 

In the mid-1980s, Syrian education policies reflected the offi- 
cial intention of the Baath Party to use the schools to indoctrinate 
the masses with its ideology and to make school training responsive 
to the nation's manpower needs (see Political Dynamics, ch. 4 ). 


A University of Damascus building on the old campus 

Courtesy Susan Carter 

The Fourth Five-Year Plan (1976-80) established a target of full 
enrollment of boys of primary school age by 1980 and of girls by 
1990. By the early 1980s, Syria had achieved full primary school 
enrollment of males of the relevant age; the comparable figure for 
females was about 85 percent. Enrollment in secondary school 
dropped to 67 percent for boys and 35 percent for girls, reflecting 
a high drop-out rate. Enrollments in remote rural areas were fre- 
quently far below the national average. In some villages of Dayr 
az Zawr Province, for example, only about 8 percent of the girls 
attended primary school, whereas in Damascus about 49 percent 
of the girls completed the six-year primary system. 

The demand for education has increased sharply. Between 1970 
and 1976, enrollment in the primary, lower secondary, and upper 
secondary levels increased by 43 percent, 52 percent, and 65 per- 
cent, respectively. During the same period, enrollments in the vari- 
ous institutes of higher learning increased by over 66 percent. In 
1985 about 1 million boys and 873,000 girls attended primary 
schools, which numbered 8,747. About 1,700 secondary schools 
enrolled over 200,000 students (see table 2, Appendix). 

In 1984 the Ministry of Higher Education supervised four univer- 
sities, in Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, and Horns. The University 
of Damascus, founded in 1923, had faculties of law, medicine, phar- 
macology, letters, dentistry, Islamic jurisprudence, agriculture, 


The Society and Its Environment 

architecture, engineering, science, fine arts, commerce, and edu- 
cation. The Higher Institute for Social Work, established in 1962 
to conduct research into social and economic problems, also was 
affiliated with the university. Syria's ruling Baath Party operated 
an institute of political science at the university that conducted man- 
datory classes in political orientation and current Syrian history. 
The University of Aleppo, opened in 1958, had faculties of engineer- 
ing and sciences, agriculture, and literature. Tishrin University 
in Latakia had a similar curriculum. Al Baath University in Horns, 
opened in 1979, was Syria's only university with departments of 
petroleum engineering and veterinary medicine. 

In the 1980s, the Syrian government was attempting to expand 
enrollment in its university faculties of science. In 1984 Syrian univer- 
sities graduated 948 physicians and 1,693 engineers. However, over 
3,100 students graduated from the faculties of arts and literature. 

A second major thrust of Syrian educational planning was 
eliminating illiteracy. In 1981 an estimated 2 million Syrians — 
42 percent of the population over 12 years of age — were illiterate. 
In accordance with the government's drive to eliminate illiteracy 
by 1991, in 1984 approximately 57,000 Syrians attended literacy 
classes sponsored by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry 
of Social Affairs and Labor. Public demand for education has 
remained strong, reflecting the importance of education as a channel 
of upward mobility. The government has continued to expect the 
system to provide trained citizens to meet the economic and politi- 
cal needs of the society. In the mid-1980s, however, the educational 
system was still inadequately funded and, even within its funding 
restrictions, was viewed by impartial observers as failing to achieve 
its limited objectives and goals. 

In the Syrian education system of the mid-1980s, the concept 
of examining a "truth" in an effort to confirm or refute it was 
largely unknown and, in any event, was often viewed as an unac- 
ceptable challenge to authority. If the teacher's instructions and 
assertions are questioned and refuted, other centers of authority — 
the family and the government — might then be asked to submit 
their truths to objective examination and testing. Because research 
possesses limited intrinsic value, the inadequate research and labora- 
tory facilities were infrequently used. 

In 1977 one observer stated that although the Syrian govern- 
ment has been seeking to improve the situation, the task is for- 
midable because of the "many shortcomings and defects" in the 
educational system and because the society and government have 
been unable to agree on a modernizing, energizing social role for 
the system. The assessment was largely valid in the mid-1980s. 


A technical training school laboratory 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 


Because of the increasing use of vaccinations and various preven- 
tive measures, health conditions in Syria generally improved in 
the 1980s. Malaria, and to a lesser extent tuberculosis, declined, 
but trachoma and gastrointestinal and parasitic diseases were 
endemic, particularly among the rural population. Diphtheria and 
tetanus also plagued rural communities, and there was a high rate 
of infectious diseases, heart disease, and cancer in urban areas. 

Syria's Ministry of Health had a budget of approximately LSI 87 
million in 1985. As a socialist government, Syria provided virtu- 
ally free medical care to its citizens and imposed a ceiling on charges 
by private hospitals. 

In 1984 there were 41 state-run hospitals and 139 private hospi- 
tals in Syria. The state hospitals averaged 200 beds each, while 
the private hospitals averaged only 20 beds each. As of 1980, Syria 
had established state hospitals in every province except Al Qunay- 
tirah; however, these public facilities were concentrated in Damas- 
cus, which had 15 public hospitals with a total of 3,801 beds, and 
Aleppo, which had 8 state hospitals with a total of 1 ,870 beds. Pri- 
vate hospitals were likewise concentrated in Damascus and Aleppo. 
Syria also had established 503 public health clinics throughout the 


The Society and Its Environment 

Syria's public health program was augmented by programs 
administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and the 
Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor 
provided vaccinations, medicine, and maternity care at rural com- 
munity development centers throughout the nation. The Minis- 
try of Education administered a preventive medicine and dentistry 
program for schoolchildren. In 1981 this program operated with 
a staff of 62 physicians, 22 dentists, and 1 10 nurses in 160 schools, 
and Syria was implementing plans to double the size of the program. 

Syria had 6,163 physicians in 1985, about one for every 1,666 
people. There were 1,975 dentists, one for every 5,198 people. Syria 
had 8,326 nurses and 2,201 midwives (see table 3, Appendix). 

Syria's socialist government provided extensive welfare services 
to citizens. Most welfare programs were administered by the Minis- 
try of Social Affairs and Labor, which in 1985 had a budget of 
LS265 million. This ministry controlled labor unions, set mini- 
mum wages, was in charge of occupational safety, paid social secu- 
rity premiums, and operated orphanages, institutions for the 
handicapped, and rural community development centers. Many 
citizens had access to subsidized public housing. 

* * * 

The scholarly literature on religion in the Middle East is vast, 
expanding, and subject to constant revision and analysis. For a 
comprehensive and challenging history of the founding of Islam 
and its subsequent development and meaning, Marshall G.S. 
Hodgson's three-volume The Venture of Islam is highly recommended. 
Islam and the Arab World, edited by Bernard Lewis, is a well-regarded 
collection of monographs by numerous specialists in the field, as 
are The Cambridge History of Islam, edited by P.M. Holt, Ann K.S. 
Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, and Religion in the Middle East: Three 
Religions in Concord and Conflict, edited by A.J. Arberry. 

In contrast, literature on Syrian social systems written by trained 
social scientists remained scanty in 1987. Because of the vital 
importance of sectarian differences and disputes within the society, 
such studies as Robert M. Haddad's Syrian Christians in Muslim 
Society: An Interpretation, which contains valuable insights into reli- 
gious life in both communities, are among the more useful sources 
for further reading. The articles by A.R. George, Donald M. Reid, 
and Gordon Roberts present material on some of the minority com- 
munities, and Frederick Jones Bliss's The Religions of Modern Syria 
and Palestine contains observations on contemporary society. (For 
further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.) 



Chapter 3. The Economy 

Marble relief of a goblet and leaves from door frame of a palace bath, 
ca. A.D. 727, Qasr al Hayr al Gharbi 

SINCE SYRIA BECAME independent in 1946, the economy has 
undergone widespread structural change. Although the presence 
of the Allied forces during World War II stimulated commerce by 
providing markets for agriculture, textiles, and other locally manu- 
factured goods, Syria lacked both the infrastructure and the 
resources to promote economic prosperity. Agriculture controlled 
the country's economy and determined the pace of industrial 
expansion as large landowners channeled profits from agricultural 
exports into agroindustrial and related urban enterprises. Syria's 
predominantly rural population, working under land tenure and 
sharecropping arrangements, derived few benefits from the agricul- 
turally induced economic growth of the 1950s. However, Syria's 
union with Egypt (1958-61) and the rise of the Baath (Arab Socialist 
Resurrection) Party as the major political force in the country in 
the 1960s, transformed Syria's economic orientation and develop- 
ment strategy. 

By the mid-1960s, government-sponsored land reform and 
nationalization of major industries and foreign investments had 
confirmed the new socialist direction of Syria's economic policy. 
As the state assumed greater control over economic decision-making 
by adopting centralized planning and strictly regulating commer- 
cial transactions, Syria experienced a substantial loss of skilled 
workers, administrators, and their capital. Despite the political 
upheavals, which undermined the confidence of landowners, mer- 
chants, and industrialists, the state successfully implemented large- 
scale development projects to expand industry, agriculture, and 

During the 1970s, Syria achieved high rates of economic growth. 
The dramatic rise of world oil prices from 1973 to 1974 led to 
increased production from domestic refineries. Moreover, higher 
prices for agricultural and oil exports, as well as the state's limited 
economic liberalization policy, encouraged growth. Also, Syria's 
economic boom was furthered by increased remittances from 
Syrians working in the oil-rich Arab states and higher levels of Arab 
and other foreign aid. By the end of the decade, the Syrian economy 
had shifted from its traditional agrarian base to an economy domi- 
nated by the service, industrial, and commercial sectors. Massive 
expenditures for development of irrigation, electricity, water, road 
building projects, and expansion of health services and education 
to rural areas contributed to prosperity. However, the economy 


A Country Study 

remained dependent on foreign aid and grants to finance the grow- 
ing deficits both in the budget and in trade. Syria, as a front-line 
state in the Arab-Israeli conflict, was also vulnerable to the vaga- 
ries of Middle East politics, relying on Arab aid transfers and Soviet 
assistance to support mounting defense expenditures. 

By the mid-1980s, the country's economic climate had shifted 
from prosperity to austerity. Syria's economic boom collapsed as 
a result of the rapid fall of world oil prices, lower export revenues, 
drought affecting agricultural production, and falling worker remit- 
tances. Also, Arab aid levels decreased because of economic 
retrenchment in the oil-producing states and Syrian support for 
Iran in the Iran-Iraq War. To restore the economy, the govern- 
ment sharply reduced spending, cut back imports, encouraged more 
private sector and foreign investment, and launched an anticor- 
ruption campaign against smugglers and black-market money 
changers. However, massive defense outlays continued to divert 
resources from productive investments. 

By the late 1980s, spot shortages of basic commodities occurred 
frequently, and industry operated far below capacity because of 
routine power outages. Foreign exchange reserves plummeted, the 
trade deficit widened, and real gross domestic product growth fell 
as economic difficulties compounded. Although the government 
instituted limited reforms to respond to the burgeoning crisis, Syria's 
pressing economic problems required a radically restructured eco- 
nomic policy to improve future economic performance. 

Growth and Structure of the Economy 

At independence Syria had a relatively well-developed economic 
base. Rapid economic growth began in the 1930s, accelerated in 
the 1940s, and lasted until the late 1950s. Growth was based primar- 
ily on the opening of new land to cultivation and financed largely 
by wealthy urban merchants, particularly from Aleppo. The new 
farms, which grew wheat, barley, and cotton as main crops, were 
large, using mechanization and irrigation as much as possible. 
Industry also expanded rapidly, stimulated by the needs of Allied 
forces in the area during World War II and domestic shortages 
of goods. Most industries were small, consisting of powered flour 
mills, bakeries, laundries, and repair shops, but also including larger 
facilities, in particular textile mills. 

In the mid-1950s, a group of economists from the World Bank 
(see Glossary) concluded that the period of rapid growth based on 
private sector investment was ending. The slowdown occurred 
partly because the supply of new land that could easily be cultivated 
was nearly exhausted. Further expansion of arable land would 


The Economy 

require large public sector investments in irrigation, drainage, and 
reclamation. Large public sector investments were also needed in 
electric power, ports, and the transportation system. Thus, eco- 
nomic conditions required an expanded role for government at 
about the same time that socialist-oriented political leaders became 
more influential. 

Only the waning portion of this period of rapid growth is reflected 
in contemporary official statistics because statistical services devel- 
oped late and reliability of data was uncertain. Although statistics 
improved slowly over the years, problems remained in the late 
1980s. Many economic measurements were best viewed as indica- 
tive rather than precise. Moreover, sharp yearly fluctuations in 
agricultural output caused by variations in rainfall further com- 
pounded economic analysis. Although agriculture's share in the 
economy had declined over the years, even in the late 1980s the 
wide swings in annual harvests had pronounced effects on such sec- 
tors as trade, transportation, finance, and industry. 

Specific data concerning the growth of the economy extend back 
to 1953. Such data, measured by the gross domestic product (GDP) 
at market prices in terms of constant 1963 prices, indicate that 
growth averaged 6.3 percent a year between 1953 and 1976. The 
period of rapid growth led by the agricultural and industrial sec- 
tors ended in 1957 because of a prolonged, four-year drought that 
severely curtailed agricultural output. In the 1960s, land reform, 
nationalization of key industries, and the socialist transformation 
of the economy affected the pace and scope of economic develop- 
ment. Growth of the economy, measured by GDP at market prices 
in terms of constant 1980 prices, averaged 9.7 percent a year dur- 
ing the 1970s. Real growth peaked at 10.2 percent in 1981 but 
declined sharply to 3.2 percent in 1982 and -2.1 percent in 1984. 

The pattern of growth by sectors was uneven. Between 1953 and 
1976, the value of agricultural output (in constant 1963 prices) 
increased by only 3.2 percent a year, slower growth than in other 
sectors of the economy. In the late 1970s, the value of agricultural 
output (in constant 1980 prices) increased by an average of 9.3 per- 
cent a year, despite large weather-induced fluctuations in output. 
From 1981 to 1984, output fell each year, although 1985 levels 
surged to approximate 1983 yields (see table 4, Appendix). 

Although agricultural output remained relatively fixed, indus- 
try and construction rapidly increased in the mid-1970s, stimulated 
in large part by the oil boom in the Persian Gulf states. Construc- 
tion grew 16.3 percent a year during the 1970s, while output of 
the mining and manufacturing sectors increased 7.1 percent a year. 
In the early 1980s, average yearly growth in these sectors was 


A Country Study 

5.6 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively. The growth of electric 
power and the extractive industries, particularly crude oil and phos- 
phates, aided industrial expansion. 

The expansion of government services in the 1970s and 1980s 
helped sustain economic growth. In the 1970s, government ser- 
vices grew at an average of 12.4 percent, contributing 14. 1 percent 
to GDP in 1976 and rising to 19.6 percent in 1984. Contributing 
to this high rate of growth was state commitment to expanding the 
educational system, health care, and social services; extending pub- 
lic sector enterprises as part of the nationalization program; con- 
structing new commercial, industrial, and residential facilities; and 
increasing defense expenditures. 

As a result of the varying sectoral growth rates, the economy 
gradually shifted from an agrarian-based structure prior to 1970 to 
an economy based on services and the commercial sector in the 1980s 
(see fig. 8). In 1953 agriculture contributed nearly 40 percent of 
GDP compared with 30 percent in 1963 and approximately 20 per- 
cent in 1984 (at constant 1980 prices), according to the figures 
published by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Devel- 
opment (IBRD). Official Syrian government sources placed agricul- 
ture's share of GDP at 16.9 percent in 1984. From 1953 to 1976, 
industry, including extractive industries and electric power, increased 
from about 10 to 22 percent of GDP. In 1984 industry contributed 
15.1 percent of GDP. Construction, trade, and transportation 
retained approximately the same relative importance as they had 
in the mid-1970s. By 1976 government services contributed over 
one-half of GDP. In 1984 the GDP share from government ser- 
vices increased to 61 percent, according to official Syrian statistics, 
while the IBRD ranked that sector's 1984 contribution at 57 percent. 

Labor Force 

Historically, agriculture was the most important source of 
employment in the economy. However, the share of the labor force 
engaged in agriculture declined significantly from 1965 to 1984. 
According to the World Bank, the percentage of the work force 
engaged in agriculture fell from 53 percent in 1965 to 48 percent 
in 1976 and to 30 percent in 1984. Manufacturing, construction, 
trade, and services were the other major sources of employment, 
providing opportunities for advancement and economic security 
for unskilled workers migrating from underdeveloped rural areas 
to the larger cities. From 1965 to 1981, the industrial labor force 
expanded from 20 to 31 percent. The service sector continued to 
be the largest employer in the 1980s, employing about 35 percent 
of the labor force. 


The Economy 

Billions of Syrian 
pounds (LS) 






Figures in bars equal percent of total 



1982 1983 

1984 1985 






Includes trade, finance, insurance, and social, government, and nonprofit services. 
Includes construction, transportation, and communications. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1986, Damascus, 1986. 

Figure 8. Growth and Structure of Gross Domestic Product, 1980-85 

The government, including public sector enterprises but exclud- 
ing defense, employed some 473,000 workers in 1983, about 
21 percent of the employed labor force and 32 percent of nonfarm 
workers. These figures represented a substantial increase in the 
number of workers employed by the government — up from the 1975 
figure of some 280,000, which was about 16 percent of the work 
force (see table 5, Appendix). Although Syria did not guarantee 
jobs to all college graduates, the government absorbed many new 
graduates into the state bureaucracy. Government organizations 
were thus overstaffed, reducing profitability and efficiency in public 
sector enterprises and causing bureaucratic delays. In addition, new 
graduates and unskilled workers frequently took jobs with the 
government to gain experience and training but subsequently 
switched to higher paying jobs in the private sector. Moreover, 
surveys suggested that many government employees worked out- 
side their area of expertise. Government workers also took second 
jobs in business and services to supplement their incomes. 


Syria: A Country Study 

The economy suffered a lack of skilled workers and trained profes- 
sionals in a wide variety of fields. In 1983 professionals, techni- 
cians, administrators, and managers made up only 10 percent of 
the work force, although their number was double the percentage 
in 1970. Both the shortage of skilled labor and the low wage policy 
in the public sector constrained the mid-1970s investment boom. 
Skilled workers and professionals headed to the oil-rich, labor-poor 
states of the Arabian Peninsula for higher wages. Although the 
government adopted various measures to curtail the "brain drain" 
from both the public and the private sectors, Syrians continued 
to migrate. In the 1980s, following the collapse of world oil prices 
and the subsequent economic downturn of the oil-producing states, 
many Syrian workers began returning home, and their industrial 
management skills arid expertise therefore became available to the 

In the 1970s, planners and government organizations gave 
greater attention to increasing the skills of the labor force. Voca- 
tional schools and specialized training facilities, including one for 
administrators and managers, became more active, and new indus- 
trial plants and other projects often included job training by for- 
eign suppliers. The government made greater efforts to identify 
and plan for the economy's manpower needs. As a result, public 
sector employees received wage increases, but it was not clear that 
the raises were sufficient to make public sector employment more 
attractive than private enterprise. How fast the level of the work 
force would rise and how the low level of skilled manpower would 
affect economic development were still uncertain. 

Officially, unemployment remained a relatively minor problem 
into the 1980s. In 1983 registered unemployed totaled 2 percent. 
However, actual unemployment may have been higher because 
much of the population depended on seasonal agricultural employ- 
ment. Many urban workers were also underemployed, further com- 
plicating employment statistics. United States government observers 
estimate that in 1984 unemployment may actually have reached 
20 percent. Although government programs to stimulate cottage 
industry and local processing in rural areas helped provide addi- 
tional income for seasonal workers, the dramatic increase in the 
number of beggars appearing in large cities in the mid-1980s indi- 
cated a sharp decline in the urban standard of living. 

As of 1983, about 15 percent of nonfarm labor was unionized 
(222,203 members in 179 unions). Union membership was largest 
among government, construction, textile, and land transportation 
workers. The government encouraged and supported labor organi- 
zations but closely supervised their activities, restricted their 


The Economy 

political influence and economic power, and minimized labor dis- 
putes. Labor achieved a voice in management of public enterprises 
through the participation of workers' representatives in commit- 
tees at each plant, but the managers headed the committees. In 
an effort to increase production and productivity, in the late 1970s 
public businesses established production councils consisting of the 
business manager and representatives of the Baath Party, the union, 
and plant workers. 

Role of Government 

During the rapid economic development preceding and follow- 
ing independence, government played a minor role. Expansion 
resulted primarily from private sector investment in agriculture and 
industry. Although the economy grew rapidly, benefits were not 
shared equally. Many people's incomes were very low, and most 
of the rural population lacked amenities; electricity, education, 
health care, and an adequate diet were available almost exclusively 
in cities and a few towns. In the 1950s, disparities of income and 
social inequality contributed to the rise of political leaders favor- 
ing a much stronger economic role for the government, including 
some leaders who demanded state ownership of the means of 
production. Economic conditions, primarily the need for large 
investments in roads, ports, and irrigation, also required more active 
government participation (see Radical Political Influence, ch. 1). 

Between 1958, after the union with Egypt, and 1965, a series 
of laws were enacted that resulted in progressive socialization of 
the economy. By 1961 the state had acquired control of the develop- 
ment of natural resources, and land reform measures had been 
introduced, although not effectively implemented. Also, a new eco- 
nomic plan that emphasized large public sector investments had 
been formulated, and the banking system had been moved toward 
nationalization through what Syrians called " Arabization. " In 
1961, while Syria was still the junior partner with Egypt in the 
United Arab Republic, widespread nationalization was decreed, 
but Syria withdrew from the republic before completion of the 
nationalization measures (see United Arab Republic, ch. 1). Not 
until March 1963 did the socialist transformation make headway. 

Between 1963 and 1965, a socialist economy was erected, 
although some laws enacted later extended and refined the public 
sector. In 1963 agrarian reform stripped large landowners of their 
estates and much of their political power, provided some land to 
landless farmers, and improved conditions for farm tenants and 
sharecroppers (see Agriculture, this ch.). In 1963 commercial bank- 
ing and insurance were completely nationalized, and in 1965 most 


A suspension footbridge over the Euphrates River 

at Dayr az Zawr 

large businesses were nationalized wholly or partially. By 1966 the 
public sector included development of natural resources, electric 
power, and water; the bulk of industrial plants, banking, arid 
insurance; part of transportation; and most international commerce 
and domestic wholesale trade. In addition, the government was 
responsible for the bulk of investments, the flow of credit, and pric- 
ing for many commodities and services, including a substantial part 
of wages. 

By 1986 the situation remained essentially unchanged. As a result 
of these earlier measures, the government dominated the eco- 
nomy — accounting for three-fifths of GDP — and exerted consider- 
able influence over the private sector. However, President Hafiz 
al Assad had liberalized the structure somewhat to encourage more 
private sector activity and investment. For example, the govern- 
ment relaxed exchange controls and permitted private traders to 
import more goods, although over 100 of the most important for- 
eign commodities were still exclusively imported by state trading 
organizations. In addition, the government established six free-trade 
zones, where local traders and manufacturers could import, process, 
and reexport commodities freely. Also, private investment (domestic 
and foreign) in portions of manufacturing and tourist facilities was 
encouraged through sucn measures as tax exemptions and cheap 
credit. The post- 1970 measures were more a rationalization of the 


The Economy 

economy to promote greater private sector development than a 
dismantling of government controls and ownership. As a result of 
these measures, the private sector dominated agriculture and retail 
trade and was important in light industry — particularly fabrics and 
clothing — and construction, transportation, and tourist facili- 

Cotton, the country's most important export before 1974, pro- 
vided an extreme example of government involvement in the 
economy. Areas put into cotton cultivation were controlled by 
government licensing of individual farmers. A government bank 
supplied the credit, most of which went to cotton farmers; much 
of the credit was in kind, and the bank would purchase, store, and 
distribute the approved seeds, fertilizers, and other items. Govern- 
ment organizations purchased and graded the cotton, operated the 
gins and spinning mills, and marketed the products internally and 
abroad. The government established the price for cotton at all stages 
and subsidized prices for such inputs as credits, seeds, fertilizers, 
and fuel to run the irrigation pumps. 

The effect on Syria's economy of the socialist measures of the 
1960s was significant. First, there was a substantial exodus of trained 
personnel and capital from the private sector, a trend that con- 
tinued in the 1970s, although the exodus was of a smaller magni- 
tude and occurred for different reasons (see Industry, this ch.). The 
other major consequence was a rapid expansion of government 
responsibilities, even though the government had few trained peo- 
ple, limited funds, and inadequate organization and procedures. 
The political instability of the 1960s and the small number of trained 
people in the country further hampered development of effective 
organizations. Government services, including defense, became the 
main growth sector of the economy in the 1960s as people were 
added to the payroll, but effective expansion was slow. 

In the mid-1980s, observers characterized the government and 
its activities as inefficient and excessively bureaucratic. Much of 
the criticism was caused by the continuing shortage of trained and 
competent officials. Part of the criticism reflected continuing defi- 
ciencies in organizations and practices. Government organizations 
were still trying to catch up with the huge additional responsibili- 
ties that had been imposed on inexperienced government person- 
nel. By 1986 budgetary procedures and financial controls had 
steadily improved, but they were not as good as the situation 
required or as officials desired. Proposals for evaluations and 
implementation of projects were deficient, but progress had been 
made, and the government sought advice and help from outside 
experts for more improvements. 


A Country Study 

When the socialist transformation was taking place in the 1960s, 
the rationale was to promote economic development for the benefit 
of all. Although some direct redistribution of income occurred, redis- 
tribution was effected largely by way of pricing, subsidies, and 
tenancy legislation rather than by taxation. However, in 1986 data 
were insufficient for a conclusive opinion. Growth afforded job 
opportunities at higher incomes, but it had the negative effect of 
attracting even more workers to already crowded urban areas. 
However, economic development did provide gradual improvement 
of living standards; considerable investments were made in roads, 
ports, schools, irrigation, and the Euphrates Dam (also known as 
Tabaqah Dam or Thawra Dam) that would facilitate future growth. 
Nonetheless, the economic wrenching of the 1980s restrained devel- 
opment; incomes of most Syrians remained low by world standards, 
and substantial income gaps between various groups persisted. 


As economic power was progressively transferred from private 
enterprise to the state, public finance became a major economic 
determinant. Even though the government's fiscal responsibilities 
increased during the early 1960s, budgetary practices changed lit- 
tle until 1967, when legislation established a single, consolidated, 
and centralized annual budget that covered all spending units of 
the public sector. This budget was closely geared to development 
plans and complemented a reorganization of the banking system. 
Under the law, each budgeted outlay was to be matched by the 
funds required to finance it. 

The budget legislation was accompanied by a reorganization of 
the Ministry of Finance and of auditing and statistical services. 
An annual foreign exchange budget was instituted to preview prob- 
able foreign exchange receipts and expenditures, thus allowing the 
Ministry of Finance and the State Planning Organization (SPO) 
to anticipate the government's needs in foreign and local currencies. 

The new law required that budget accounts be closed thirty days 
after the end of the fiscal year. Unused funds were to be returned 
to the treasury, although those already committed were to be placed 
in special, segregated accounts in the treasury. This stopped the 
previous practice whereby transactions continued to be recorded 
on budget accounts for several years after the end of a fiscal year. 

Since 1967, when the state introduced the consolidated budget, 
all expenditures and receipts of the ministries, the central public 
sector administrative agencies, the public sector economic enter- 
prises, and the local, municipal, and religious administrative units 
have been combined into one budget. Expenditures and receipts 


The Economy 

of the ministries and central government administrative units were 
included in the general budget in full; other units were represented 
by inclusion of the net total surplus or deficit of their respective 
budgets. Economic units financed almost none of their own expan- 
sion. Instead, they turned any surplus (profit) back to the govern- 
ment and received funds via budget expenditures for investments. 

Although budgetary practices improved and the budget became 
a more useful tool for officials, published budget data in the late 
1980s remained a difficult source from which to interpret develop- 
ments in the economy. Expenditures and receipts continued to be 
published as proposals only. Actual expenditures and receipts were 
not available, although fragmentary data gave indications of short- 
falls. Although Ministry of Finance statistics generally depicted 
balanced budgets, there were many accounting errors, and such 
important balancing items as proposed domestic borrowing and 
anticipated foreign aid were not clearly designated. Thus it was 
impossible to determine how effective the government was in 
implementing programs, whether deficits were incurred and, if so, 
their size, and how dependent the government was on external 
assistance. The uncertainties may have been intentional for secu- 
rity reasons. 

The budget gave few clues about the extent of Syria's economic 
malaise in the mid-1980s. For example, it did not reflect the rapid 
depreciation of the Syrian pound, the steep rise in prices, the short- 
ages of basic commodities, or the acute foreign exchange crisis that 
compelled the government to reduce imports. However, budget 
data during the mid-1980s clearly depicted the mood of austerity 
underlying economic policy as well as the government's commit- 
ment to reducing expenditures. The 1986 budget revealed a major 
decrease in expenditure in real terms for the third consecutive year, 
as inflation — estimated at between 20 to 30 percent — negated the 
2 percent increase in spending. 

Defense spending towered above all other budgetary allocations 
in the 1980s (see The Armed Forces and Society, ch. 5). The cost 
of Syria's military presence in Lebanon since 1976, coupled with 
the government's desire to reach strategic parity with Israel, 
accounted for the level of spending. Defense spending averaged 
over 50 percent of current expenditures in the mid-1980s, account- 
ing for about 30 percent of total spending. 

Agricultural development also benefited from high allocations 
in the mid-1980s designed to counteract the governmental neglect 
of the 1970s. In 1985 allocations rose 22 percent above 1984 figures, 
amounting to 20 percent of total spending. In 1986 figures indi- 
cated a 5 percent investment increase for the agricultural sector. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Allocations for the mining industry (including petroleum) 
increased substantially in the 1986 investment budget. The 1986 
allocations rose 46 percent above 1985 levels as government offi- 
cials targeted increased petroleum and phosphate production and 
export in the Sixth Five- Year Plan (1986-90). 

However, budget deficits continued in the 1980s because of the 
rapid increase in defense expenditures and falling revenues from 
exports. The government financed the deficit through domestic bor- 
rowing and foreign aid. But, in the mid-1980s, budgeted foreign 
aid grants greatly exceeded actual disbursements by donors because 
of depressed economic conditions in the Arab oil-exporting states. 
Although Syria budgeted about LS2 billion (for value of the Syrian 
pound — see Glossary) in foreign aid grants in 1986, the country 
expected to receive only about one-fifth of this figure and to incur 
a substantial budget deficit. However, the country's internal and 
external public debt remained moderate and did not impose an 
oppressive annual repayment burden. 


The growth rate of proposed government revenues (in current 
prices) averaged 14.3 percent a year from 1964 to 1970, 26 per- 
cent a year in the 1970s, and 8.3 percent a year from 1980 to 1985. 
Growth in government revenues in the 1970s reflected higher levels 
of foreign aid because of Syria's key role in inter- Arab politics and 
increased internal borrowing for development. Government receipts 
included part of expected foreign financial assistance as well as 
anticipated domestic borrowing. Actual receipts for various revenue 
headings were not available, but many economists believed that 
actual receipts were substantially less than those shown in proposed 
budgets. Proposed government revenues increased from LSI. 2 bil- 
lion in 1964 to LS2. 8 billion in 1970, LS10. 4 billion in 1975, LSI. 2 
billion in 1978, and LS43 billion in 1985 (see table 6, Appendix). 

Syrian revenues were a much higher ratio of GDP than in most 
countries because budget receipts incorporated the funds, includ- 
ing foreign aid and internal borrowing, used for the bulk of the 
country's investments. In fact, Syrian revenue structure differed 
from that of most countries in a number of ways. Personal income 
taxes have traditionally been low, amounting to only LS550 mil- 
lion, or 1.3 percent of total revenues, in 1985. Reluctance to tax 
income stemmed from generally low incomes combined with high 
tax-collection costs. Furthermore, tax rates were low, and had 
numerous exemptions for special interests, despite a 1982 law 
enacted to close loopholes for certain public sector ventures. Tax 
evasion also was common among all social classes. Business income 


The Economy 

taxes were relatively small as well, amounting to 10 percent (LS4.3 
billion) of total revenues in 1985. Even so, this amount was a sig- 
nificant increase over the LS510 million (3 percent of total revenues) 
collected in 1977. 

In addition, taxes on capital, real estate, and inheritance yielded 
small sums. In 1985 taxes on capital brought in LS50 million, real 
estate taxes produced LS400 million, and inheritance taxes LS40 
million, equivalent to about 1 percent of the total. Direct taxes and 
duties totaled LS6.2 billion in 1985. 

Because they were easy to collect, levies on production and con- 
sumption (including taxes on imports) were the primary form of 
taxation. Like many other developing countries, Syria relied on 
indirect taxes, which in 1985 amounted to LS4.2 billion, 10 percent 
of total revenues, equal to two-thirds the amount of direct taxes 
and duties. Customs duties and other fees on foreign trade, includ- 
ing duties on cotton exports, amounted to LS2 billion in 1985. 
Excise taxes on several commodities (e.g., cement, fuel, livestock, 
sugar, and salt) made up the remainder of indirect taxes. 

Transfer of surpluses (after taxes and profits) from public sector 
enterprises served as the main source of domestic revenue. The 
share of these transfers (excluding foreign aid and internal credits) 
reached 32 percent in 1970, 50 percent in 1976, and 31 percent 
in 1985 (LS13.1 billion). In the 1960s, banking-financial and indus- 
trial public sector businesses together provided the bulk of the sur- 
pluses. In the 1970s, in industrial concerns alone accounted for 
75 percent of the surpluses transferred to the budget; this figure 
declined slightly to 70 percent in 1985. In the 1970s and 1980s, 
the government increasingly relied on the pricing of commodities 
and services rather than taxes to finance expenditures. In an effort 
to expand future budget revenues, officials intended to increase 
efficiency, productivity, and profits of public sector business. 

Foreign credits and grants and domestic borrowing also provided 
supplemental funding for key development projects. The 1984 bud- 
get projected LSI. 9 billion in foreign loans and LS7.7 billion in 
"support funds" from Arab states (see Balance of Payments, this 
ch.). After 1982 grants in oil aid from Iran also significantly con- 
tributed to the growth of revenues. However, when external aid 
declined in the 1980s, domestic borrowing levels increased. 
Although the banking system provided most of the internal credits, 
reserves of public enterprises also provided some funds. 

Until 1977 transit fees for crude oil pumped through international 
pipelines across Syrian territory were an important source of 
revenue. Pipeline payments, which averaged about 25 percent of 
total domestic revenues in the early 1970s, fell to zero in 1977. The 


A Country Study 

pipeline reopened briefly in 1979, was shut down in the early stages 
of the Iran-Iraq War, and then reopened again in 1981 before Syria 
closed down the pipeline from Iraq in 1982 as a show of support 
for Iran in the war (see Industry, this ch.). 


Proposed expenditures matched proposed revenues because 
budgets submitted for approval were balanced. However, actual 
expenditures usually fell considerably short of those planned, 
although the fragmentary data available in 1987 generally precluded 
measurement of the amount of difference. In the 1980s, budgets 
began including planned deficits, and investment spending repeat- 
edly trailed allocations. Only 70 percent of Syria's 1984 investment 
budget of LSI 7.9 million was actually spent. Expenditures fell under 
two headings — the ordinary budget covering current (recurring) 
expenditures and the development (capital) budget. Beginning in 
the early 1960s, capital investments had become a much more 
important part of the budget. Development expenditures amounted 
to 42 percent of total expenditures in 1964, increased to 50 percent 
in 1970, and peaked at 64 percent in 1976. However, by 1980 
development expenditures had fallen back to 50 percent and in 1985 
fell to 45 percent of total expenditures. 

In the 1980s, normal proposed revenues (taxes, duties, fees, and 
surpluses of public sector enterprises) usually financed proposed 
current expenditures, and there was a small remainder to help with 
capital investments. Foreign aid and domestic borrowing financed 
the rest of the development budget. 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, defense spending dominated 
current expenditures. Some observers maintained that in the 1970s 
defense spending accounted for approximately three-fifths of cur- 
rent expenditures, although such amounts were not reflected in offi- 
cial statistics (see fig. 9). Officially, defense spending rose from 
LS675 million in 1970 to LS4.6 billion in 1978, increasing at an 
average rate of 27 percent a year during this period. In the 1985 
budget, defense spending again accounted for the greatest portion 
of current expenditures. However, the LSI 3 billion defense budget 
in 1985 reflected only a 9 percent rate of growth, slower than that 
in previous years, but a related item, internal security expendi- 
tures, accounted for a further LS672 million in the 1985 budget. 
Most of the remainder of current expenditures covered operating 
expenses of ministries and agencies — largely personnel costs (see 
table 7, Appendix). 

Identifiable payments on the public debt amounted to LSI 35 
million in 1976 and 1977, less than 1 percent of total expenditures. 


The Economy 

Includes expenditures for executive, legislative, judical, and many 
ministerial services. 

Includes energy, transportation, construction, and communications. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1986, Damascus, 1986. 

Figure 9. Government Expenditures by Sector, 1985 

The 1984 budget allocated LSI. 8 billion to the public debt, equal 
to 7.6 percent of current expenditures. 

Identifiable price subsidies amounted to LS600 million in 1977 
and LSI .4 billion in 1985, accounting for 9 percent and 6 percent 
of current expenditures, respectively. Subsidies rose rapidly in the 
mid-1970s as a result of higher rates of internal and international 
inflation. The government attempted to keep meat, bread, coffee, 
sugar, diesel fuel (for irrigation pumps), and other essential items 
within reach of the poor; the subsidized prices for sugar and diesel 
fuel, for example, were about one-quarter of the regular market 
price in the 1980s. 

In the 1970s, the government demonstrated its commitment to 
economic development through sizable increases in the develop- 
ment budget by increasing investment expenditures an average of 
26 percent a year. Although they increased substantially from LSI .4 
billion in 1970 to LSI 4 billion in 1980, growth of investment 
expenditures slowed to just 6 percent a year in the 1980s. 

Development Planning 

Development planning began in 1947, when a British firm was 


Syria: A Country Study 

hired to survey the Syrian economy and make suggestions for 
investments. Presumably, the report guided the government's 
limited development expenditures for several years. In 1955 an eco- 
nomic mission from the World Bank suggested a six-year, LSI. 9 
billion development program and formation of a planning agency. 
In the same year, a planning organization that immediately pre- 
sented a seven-year, LS660-million development plan was estab- 
lished. Although this plan was adopted, it was discarded in 1956. 
In 1958 a ten-year plan was prepared, incorporating the results 
of the 1957 aid agreement with the Soviet Union. This plan was 
also discarded in order to mesh plans with Egypt. 

After Syria's union with Egypt, Syria's First Five-Year Plan 
(1960-65) within a broader ten-year program was adopted. As in 
the Egyptian plan, Syria's gross output of goods and services was 
to double in 10 years, requiring a yearly increase of 7.2 percent. 
Total planned investment in the five-year plan, including that by 
the private sector, was LS2.7 billion. Irrigation and agriculture 
were allocated 20 percent of the investments; transportation and 
communications, 20 percent; and industry — particularly the oil and 
electric power industries — 19 percent. Foreign aid was to supply 
nearly one-quarter of the financing (nearly 40 percent of public 
sector investments), supplemented by a small amount of internal 
borrowing. However, withdrawal from the union with Egypt, 
political instability, private investors' fear of nationalization, and 
inadequacies of the government structure combined to keep actual 
investment to less than 60 percent of the plan. 

The Second Five-Year Plan (1966-70) maintained the same 
growth target (an annual average increase of 7.2 percent for GDP) 
but substantially increased planned public sector investments to 
achieve the socialist economy envisioned by Syria's leaders. Planned 
development expenditures were LS5 billion, of which the public 
sector was to contribute LS3.5 billion and the private sector LSI. 5 
billion. Dependence on foreign aid increased, amounting to a 
planned LSI. 9 billion, or 56 percent of public sector investments 
(4 percent of total investments). Planned allocations included LSI .4 
billion to irrigation and agriculture (primarily the Euphrates Dam 
and other irrigation projects), LS612 million to fuel and electric 
power, LS894 million to transportation and communications, 
LS399 million to manufacturing and mining, and LSI. 3 billion 
to housing, construction, and public works. More than two-thirds 
of private investments were to be in housing, construction, and 

Implementation of the second plan fell short of goals, partly 
because of the June 1967 War and the resources devoted to 


The Economy 

national security. Economic growth was about two-thirds of that 
projected under the plan, and investments were about 70 percent. 
Public sector development expenditures lagged considerably dur- 
ing the first three years, and only large investment in 1969 and 
1970 partially salvaged the situation. Private sector investment 
(largely in housing and construction) appeared to be closer to what 
was planned than public sector investment. Export growth exceeded 
the plan but was less than import growth, causing a deterioration 
in the balance of payments. 

The Third Five-Year Plan (1971-75) aimed at an 8.2 percent 
growth rate for GDP (in constant prices) and investments totaling 
LS8 billion, of which LS6.4 billion was planned for the public sec- 
tor and LSI .6 billion for the cooperative and private sectors. Pub- 
lic sector allocations were 25 percent for completion of the Euphrates 
Dam; 10 percent for agricultural and other irrigation projects; 18 
percent for industry and mining; 16 percent for fuel and electric 
power; 12 percent for transportation and communications; 9 per- 
cent for housing, water, and other public works, and 10 percent 
for miscellaneous, including debt service. Private sector investments 
were scheduled primarily for housing and construction (LS903 mil- 
lion); much smaller amounts were scheduled for other sectors. 
Domestic savings were expected to increase sharply- to finance 
investments. Surpluses of public enterprises alone were expected 
to finance over three-quarters of public investments. 

Implementation of the third plan started slowly; development 
expenditures were far less than planned by the outbreak of the 
October 1973 War. The war damaged key industrial facilities, par- 
ticularly power stations and the oil refinery at Horns. The plan 
was modified for necessary repairs and for additional projects 
because substantial new aid became available. Over 50 percent of 
investments were concentrated in the last two years of the plan. 

The results of the third plan were mixed. GDP (in constant prices) 
increased over the five years by 10.7 percent a year, considerably 
more than planned because of relatively good weather for crops, 
increasing production of and higher prices for crude oil, and the 
high level of construction, particularly after 1973. Some large 
projects were completed during the Second Five-Year Plan, such 
as the Euphrates Dam, a fertilizer plant, and the beginning of a 
steel industry that added to and diversified the industrial strength 
of the country. Public investments, however, reached only about 
70 percent of the target in spite of heavy development expendi- 
tures in the final two years, and the pattern by sectors was irregu- 
lar. Even with the large expenditures in the Euphrates basin, 
investment in agriculture and irrigation stagnated in real terms. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Public savings and surpluses of public enterprises fell considera- 
bly short of goals. Without new and unplanned foreign aid, pub- 
lic investments would not have even approached targets as closely 
as they did. However, the high level of investment after 1973 con- 
tributed to shortages of goods and skilled workers and to serious 

Aware of deficiencies, the government attempted to remedy 
problems in planning and implementation. In 1968 the planning 
structure was reorganized; as of 1986 it retained the same form. 
The Supreme Planning Council, consisting of the prime minister 
and the highest officials concerned with the economy, determined 
broad strategy and general objectives from which the SPO drew 
up detailed guidelines. Planning units in ministries developed sec- 
toral plans in collaboration with appropriate SPO officials. The 
process then was reversed — the sectoral plans passing the SPO for 
final formulation, with subsequent approval by the Supreme Plan- 
ning Council. The SPO prepared the annual development budget 
for inclusion with the government's current budget expenditures 
and shared responsibilities with another organization under the 
prime minister's office in the follow up of the plan. The Central 
Bureau of Statistics also supported the prime minister in provid- 
ing data for planning and implementation. Statistical services had 
improved considerably by the mid-1980s, but collection and process- 
ing still needed improvement to meet the requirements of officials 
and planners. 

The reforms made failed to raise the government's management 
of the economy to the level outlined in the Third Five- Year Plan. 
Deficiencies remained in project identification, preparation, imple- 
mentation, and coordination. Management of public sector busi- 
nesses was generally weak, reducing the profits available to the 
government for development expenditures and often leaving 
industrial capacity underutilized. In spite of efforts by the Minis- 
try of Finance to reform the tax system and increase efficiency of 
domestic resource mobilization, deficiencies in labor, wage, and 
price policies hampered development. Corruption became so 
widespread that the government initiated a program against it. 
Some economists viewed the government's administrative problems 
as so complex that many years of serious reform would be required 
to achieve satisfactory efficiency. 

Preparation of the Fourth Five- Year Plan (1976-80) required 
a reassessment by the country's economic leaders. In particular, 
the reduced availability of economic resources (caused in part by 
a slowing of foreign aid, loss of pipeline transit fees and conces- 
sionary crude oil supplies from Iraq, military expenditures for 


The Economy 

peacekeeping in Lebanon, and care for the large number of refu- 
gees from Lebanon) forced a program of austerity. The reassess- 
ment contributed to a cabinet change in August 1976, in which 
the new cabinet was charged with improving economic manage- 
ment and particularly with strengthening public sector performance. 

The original draft of the fourth plan, completed by 1975, was 
overly optimistic. A drastically revised draft was finished in June 
1976 but was further revised downward during the year. Because 
of the shortages of agricultural workers in the northeast and tech- 
nicians and managers in industry, the new cabinet reportedly 
viewed the revised plan as still too optimistic about GDP growth, 
expansion of irrigation, and production increases from manufac- 
turing and extractive industries. The revised plan was approved 
and became law in April 1977, although as a tentative plan sub- 
ject to further revision. 

The approved Fourth Five-Year Plan anticipated an increase in 
real terms of 12 percent a year in agricultural output, 15.4 percent 
a year in mining, manufacturing, and electric-power production, 
and 16 percent a year in construction. Total planned investments 
were LS54.2 billion, of which LS44.8 billion was to be generated 
by the public sector. Agriculture and irrigation received the larg- 
est allocation, LS12.9 billion, of which LS10.4 billion was gener- 
ated by the public sector, including LS7.4 billion for irrigation in 
the Euphrates basin and LS1.1 billion for fifty-eight small dams 
and irrigation and drainage projects elsewhere. Mining and manu- 
facturing were allocated LSI 1.3 billion, of which public sector 
investments were LS9.9 billion. Fuel and electric power, all in the 
public sector, received LS7.9 billion. Housing was allocated LS8. 1 
billion, almost evenly divided between public and private invest- 
ments. The transportation and communication systems, primarily 
public sector, were allocated LS5.6 billion. Investments in public 
works, local government, trade, and other services (largely public 
sector) made up the remainder. 

Despite the infusion of funds from Arab oil-producing states, 
Syrian officials had concluded that the targets set for the Fourth 
Five-Year Plan were unrealistic and that the plan contained too 
many large and overly ambitious projects. Consequently, the Fifth 
Five-Year Plan (1981-85) sought more modest goals than its 
predecessors. The plan, announced only in mid- 1981 and published 
in 1982, called for few new major projects, indicating the return 
of realism to Syrian development planning. Although planners con- 
centrated on completing projects begun under the fourth plan, 
emphasis shifted from industry to agriculture in an effort to achieve 
self-sufficiency in food. The large increase in food imports since 


Syria: A Country Study 

the late 1970s and the general neglect of the agricultural sector in 
that decade produced a renewed commitment to agricultural devel- 
opment. The Fifth Five- Year Plan sought a reduction in both public 
and private consumption while continuing to increase investment. 
In addition, the plan targeted a decrease in the trade deficit and 
a reduction in the growth of public spending. Under the Fifth Five- 
Year Plan, total planned investment was LS101.5 billion, with 
LS9.4 billion derived from foreign loans and aid. The private sec- 
tor was slated to provide LS23.3 billion. Agriculture received 
LSI 7.2 billion, and mining and manufacturing's allocation was 
LS27 billion, including LS4.6 billion for the extractive industries 
and LS10.1 billion for electricity, gas, and water. The transporta- 
tion and communication sector received LSI 2. 8 billion, the finan- 
cial sector LS18.4 billion, and the service sector LS20.6 billion. 

Although the Fifth Five-Year Plan's goals were more realistic 
than goals of previous plans, targets proved unattainable. In fact, 
the fifth plan achieved only 50 percent of its goals in key areas. 
Factors largely beyond the control of the government contributed 
to this failure. The oil crisis of the 1980s, which lowered the price 
and demand for petroleum, reduced the value of Syria's crude oil 
exports. The crisis also produced depressed economic conditions 
in the Arab oil-producing states, leading to a marked decrease of 
workers' remittances and foreign aid and grants from the Persian 
Gulf states in the mid-1980s. In addition, the 1983-84 drought 
damaged not only the production of key crops but also adversely 
affected agriculturally dependent sectors of the economy. Mount- 
ing defense expenditures and government policies, including price 
controls and marketing restrictions on agricultural production, also 
accounted for the failure to achieve the projected goals of the plan. 
In general, less than 70 percent of the amount allocated for invest- 
ment budgets in the early 1980s actually was spent. The Fifth Five- 
Year Plan projected a 44.7 percent growth in real GDP (in 1980 
prices), equivalent to an average annual increase of 7.7 percent, 
but real GDP fell from 1982 to 1985. 

Individual sectors clearly failed to meet or even approach the 
targets. The value of agricultural production was slated to grow 
an average of 7.8 percent a year under the plan. Despite the state's 
renewed emphasis on agricultural development, production 
decreased in the early 1980s as a result of drought conditions. 
Increased production levels in 1985 occurred more as a response 
to good weather than as an emerging trend toward increased agricul- 
tural output. Structural changes in the economy and the move- 
ment of the labor force away from the agricultural sector weakened 
attempts to increase production. The mining and manufacturing 


The Economy 

sector, targeted to rise 42.7 percent over the five-year period, grew 
only about 8.5 percent in the early 1980s. The sector experienced 
an overall decrease in the real value of production from 1980 to 
1985, despite increases in electric power generation and manufac- 
turing output. 

The plan also anticipated an 8.9 percent per year rise in invest- 
ment and a 6.4 percent per year increase in current expenditures. 
Allocated development expenditure actually declined in real terms 
from the 1980 to the 1985 budget. Gross domestic investment, both 
public and private, grew about 2.9 percent per year. Current 
expenditure grew 9 percent per year in real terms during the period 
of the Fifth Five- Year Plan. The planned yearly increases for 
imports and exports were 3.4 and 6.5 percent, respectively, yet 
both actually fell. The trade deficit and food imports, however, 
continued to grow. 

In early 1987, the Sixth Five- Year Plan (1986-90) had still not 
been published. However, Syrian government officials had revealed 
the general goals of the plan in statements to the international 
media. Like its immediate predecessor, the Sixth Five-Year Plan 
stressed completion of existing projects and increased productivity 
in ongoing ones, rather than the implementation of major new 
development projects in a period of economic retrenchment. Offi- 
cials anticipated that total investment in the Sixth Five-Year Plan 
would barely exceed the LS101 .5 billion allocated for the fifth plan. 
The government continued to emphasize agriculture, including land 
reclamation and water resource exploitation. Agriculture's share 
of investment was expected to increase from 16.9 percent in the 
fifth plan to about 19 percent in the sixth plan. Industry's alloca- 
tion was also slated to rise slightly from 12.2 percent in the fifth 
plan to 13.7 percent in the sixth plan. 


Until the mid-1970s, agriculture had been Syria's primary eco- 
nomic activity. At independence in 1946, agriculture (including 
forestry and fishing) was the most important sector of the economy, 
and in the 1940s and early 1950s, agriculture was the fastest growing 
sector. Wealthy merchants from such urban centers as Aleppo 
invested in land development and irrigation. Rapid expansion of 
the cultivated area and increased output stimulated the rest of the 
economy. However, by the late 1950s, little land that could easily 
be brought under cultivation remained. During the 1960s, agricul- 
tural output stagnated because of political instability and land 
reform. Between 1953 and 1976, agriculture's contribution to GDP 
increased (in constant prices) by only 3.2 percent, approximately 


A Country Study 

the rate of population growth. From 1976 to 1984, growth declined 
to 2 percent a year. Thus, agriculture's importance in the economy 
declined as other sectors grew more rapidly. 

In 1981 (the year of the latest census), as in the 1970s, 53 per- 
cent of the population was still classified as rural, although move- 
ment to the cities continued to accelerate. However, in contrast 
to the 1970s, when 50 percent of the labor force was employed in 
agriculture, by 1983 agriculture employed only 30 percent of the 
labor force. Furthermore, by the mid-1980s, unprocessed farm 
products accounted for only 4 percent of exports, equivalent to 
7 percent of nonpetroleum exports. Industry, commerce, and trans- 
portation still depended on farm produce and related agrobusiness, 
but agriculture's preeminent position had clearly eroded. By 1985 
agriculture (including forestry and fishing) contributed only 17.7 
percent to GDP, down from 22.1 percent in 1976. 

By the mid-1980s, the Syrian government had taken measures 
to revitalize agriculture. The 1985 investment budget saw a sharp 
rise in allocations for agriculture, including land reclamation and 
irrigation. The government's renewed commitment to agricultural 
development in the 1980s, by expanding cultivation and extend- 
ing irrigation, promised brighter prospects for Syrian agriculture 
in the 1990s. 

Water Resources 

Water is a scarce resource in Syria as it is throughout the Mid- 
dle East, but Syria is more fortunate than many other countries. 
Sufficient rainfall supports cultivation in an arc from the south- 
west, near the border with Israel and Lebanon, extending north- 
ward to the Turkish border and eastward along that border to Iraq. 
The other main area of cultivation, although dependent on irriga- 
tion, is along the Euphrates River and its major tributaries (see 
Land, Water, and Climate, ch. 2). 

Rainfall is highest along the Mediterranean coast and in the 
mountains just inland; Syria's limited forestry activities are con- 
centrated in the higher elevations of these mountains. Rainfall 
diminishes sharply as one moves eastward of the mountains parallel- 
ing the coast and southward from the Turkish border. The arc of 
cultivation from the southwest (and east of the coastal mountains) 
to the northeast is largely semiarid, having an annual rainfall 
between 300 and 600 millimeters. Areas south and east of the arc 
receive less than 300 millimeters of rain annually, classifying the 
land as arid. Grass and coarse vegetation suitable for limited grazing 
grow in part of this arid belt, and the rest is desert of little agricul- 
tural value. 


The Economy 

Rainfall is concentrated between October and May. Without 
irrigation, cropping is finished by summer, when the climate is very 
hot and dry. Moreover, the amount of rainfall and its timing vary 
considerably from year to year, making rain-fed farming extremely 
risky. When rains are late or inadequate, farmers do not even plant 
a crop. Successive years of drought are not uncommon and cause 
havoc not only for farmers but for the rest of the economy. In the 
mid-1980s, about two-thirds of agricultural output (plant and 
animal production) depended on rainfall. 

Extension and improvement of irrigation systems could substan- 
tially raise agricultural output. For example, in 1985, because of 
the expansion of irrigation systems, Syria's agricultural output rose 
10 percent above the drought-plagued yield of 1984. Yields from 
irrigated fields have been several times higher than from rain-fed 
fields, and many irrigated areas could grow more than a single crop 
a year. Development of irrigation systems, however, is both costly 
and time-consuming. 

Syria's major irrigation potential lies in the Euphrates River val- 
ley and its two major tributaries, the Balikh and Khabur rivers 
in the northeast portion of the country. The Euphrates is the third 
largest river in the Middle East (after the Nile in Egypt and the 
Tigris in Iraq) and its headwaters rise in Turkey, where relatively 
heavy rainfall and snowpack provide runoff much of the year. The 
river flows southeastward across the arid Syrian plateau into Iraq. 
It joins the Tigris River shortly before emptying into the Persian 
Gulf. In addition to Syria, both Turkey and Iraq use dams on the 
Euphrates for hydroelectric power, water control, storage, and 
irrigation. In the mid-1980s, about one-half of the annual Euphrates 
River flow was used by the three nations. 

Syrians have long used the Euphrates for irrigation, but, because 
the major systems were destroyed centuries ago, they make only 
limited use of the river's flow. In the mid-1980s, the Euphrates 
River accounted for over 85 percent of the country's surface water 
resources, but its water was used for only about two-fifths (200,000 
hectares) of the land then under irrigated cultivation. In 1984 about 
44 percent of irrigated land still used water from wells. 

Several project studies were conducted after World War II. In 
the 1960s, the Soviet Union agreed to provide financial and tech- 
nical assistance for the Euphrates Dam, a large hydroelectrical 
power station, and portions of the major Euphrates irrigation 
project. The dam, located at Tabaqah, a short distance upriver 
from the town of Ar Raqqah, is earth fill, sixty meters high and 
four and one-half kilometers long. Construction began in 1968, 
and work was essentially completed by 1978. The dam was closed 


A Country Study 

in 1978, when Lake Assad, the artificial lake behind the dam, began 
filling. About eighty kilometers long, Lake Assad averages about 
eight kilometers in width and holds nearly 12 billion cubic meters 
of water. The power plant has eight 100-megawatt turbines for 
power generation and transmission lines to Aleppo. Until 1983 the 
power station operated at 65 percent of capacity, generating 2,500 
megawatts a year, or about 45 percent of Syria's electricity. In 1986 
the power station operated at only 30 to 40 percent of capacity 
because of the low water level in Lake Assad. Provisions were made, 
however, for future construction to raise the height of the dam, 
increase the capacity of Lake Assad by about 10 percent, and 
increase the number of turbines. In 1984, as a result of the disap- 
pointing performance of the dam, the government studied the pos- 
sibility of building a second dam upstream from Tabaqah between 
Ash Shajarah, situated on the northern edge of Lake Assad, and 
Jarabulus, located near the Turkish border. 

The ultimate goal of the Euphrates irrigation project is to pro- 
vide 640,000 cultivable hectares by the year 2000, in effect dou- 
bling the area of Syria's irrigated land in the mid-1970s. In 1978 
observers believed that 20,000 to 30,000 hectares of land had been 
irrigated and that new housing, roads, and farms had been com- 
pleted for the 8,000 farmers displaced by the creation of Lake Assad. 
In the early 1980s, Syrian officials had anticipated the completion 
of irrigation on about 50,000 to 100,000 hectares in the Euphrates 
basin; about 20,000 hectares were planned for completion each year 
after that. The Fourth Five- Year Plan actually called for irrigat- 
ing an additional 240,000 hectares by the end of the plan. In 1984, 
however, Syrian government statistics revealed that only 60,000 
hectares were actually being irrigated. Ten years after its incep- 
tion, the Euphrates irrigation project irrigated only about 10 per- 
cent of its long-term goal. 

A variety of complex, interrelated problems frustrated realiza- 
tion of targeted irrigation goals. Technical problems with gypsum 
subsoil, which caused irrigation canals to collapse, proved more 
troublesome than at first anticipated. Large cost overruns on some 
of the irrigation projects made them much more expensive than 
planned and created difficulties in financing additional projects. 
Moreover, these large irrigation projects required several years 
before returns on the investments began. There was also doubt 
about whether farmers could be attracted back from urban areas 
or enticed from more crowded agricultural areas to the sparsely 
populated Euphrates River valley. 

Another complication is that the Euphrates flow is insufficient 
for the irrigation needs of the three countries — Turkey, Iraq, and 


The Economy 

Syria — that share the river. In 1962 talks on allotment of Euphrates 
water began and continued sporadically throughout the 1970s and 
early 1980s, but acrimonious relations between Syria and Iraq ham- 
pered final agreements. In fact, in 1978 when Syria began filling 
Lake Assad and water to Iraq was greatly reduced, the two coun- 
tries almost went to war. In addition, Turkey's use of the waters 
of the Euphrates River for its Keban Dam ensures that water levels 
in Lake Assad will remain low. This problem will undoubtedly con- 
tinue into the 1990s, when Turkey completes construction of the 
Ataturk Dam. 

By 1987 numerous Euphrates irrigation projects and additional 
irrigation projects throughout the country were proceeding, but 
what had been accomplished was not clear. Projects initiated in 
the 1980s included irrigation of 21,000 hectares in the Ar Raqqah 
area pilot project, 27,000 hectares reclaimed in the Euphrates 
middle-stage project, and about half of a 21 ,000-hectare plot 
reclaimed with Soviet assistance in the Meskanah region. There 
were also major irrigation schemes involving 130,000 hectares in 
the Meskanah, Al Ghab, and Aleppo plains project. In addition, 
Syria completed a small regulatory dam with three seventy-milliwatt 
turbines approximately twenty-five kilometers downstream from 
Tabaqah. In the mid-1980s, work continued on the Baath Dam, 
located twenty-seven kilometers from the Euphrates Dam, and work 
on the Tishrin Dam on the Kabir ash Shamali River near Latakia 
evolved from the planning to implementation stage. The govern- 
ment also planned to construct as many as three dams on the 
Khabur River in northeast Syria and more effectively use the waters 
of the Yarmuk River in southwest Syria. Foreign contractors car- 
ried out most of these major development projects. The Soviets 
and Romanians were particularly active in irrigation schemes as 
part of their economic aid programs. French, British, Italian, and 
Japanese firms, the World Bank, and Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti 
development assistance funds were deeply involved in financing 
and implementing these projects. 

In the 1980s, there was good potential for expanding and refin- 
ing irrigation in the western portion of Syria. The government 
obtained economical results using small impoundments that held 
winter runoffs to supplement rain-fed cultivation and to provide 
some summer irrigation. Small storage areas for water from wells 
and springs permitted additional irrigation. Farmers, however, had 
not yet turned to sprinkler systems or trickle irrigation, which would 
considerably reduce the amount of water needed for cultiva- 


Syria: A Country Study 

Figure 10. Land Use 

Land Use 

The bulk of the country is arid, and has little vegetation. In 1984, 
nearly 20 percent was classified as desert (see fig. 10). Another 45 
percent of the land was classified as steppe and pasture, although 
its grazing capacity was very limited — much like land in the Ameri- 
can Southwest. Less than 3 percent of the land was forested, and 
only part of it was commercially useful. Cultivable land amounted 
to about 32 percent of the total area. In 1984, about 92 percent 
of the total cultivable area of 6.2 million hectares was cultivated 
(see table 8, Appendix). 

Major expansion of the cultivated area occurred in the 1940s 
and 1950s. Much of the expansion was the result of investment 


The Economy 

by wealthy urban merchants, many of whom were from the coun- 
try's religious minorities. Their innovations included large-scale 
use of farm machinery, pumps, and irrigation where possible and 
different tenure arrangements for farm operators than were used 
in other parts of the country. But the efforts of the merchants of 
Aleppo and other commercial centers largely exhausted the potential 
for bringing new land under cultivation. The area of cultivation 
(6.9 million hectares) and land irrigated (760,000 hectares) peaked 
in 1963 and has been appreciably smaller since then. By 1984 
approximately 5.7 million hectares were under cultivation, 618,000 
of them irrigated. 

Opinions differ as to the causes of the decline of cultivated and 
irrigated areas after 1963. Some observers say that marginal lands 
brought under cultivation proved uneconomical after a few years 
and were abandoned. Others claim that the merchant-developers 
used exploitive techniques that eventually reduced the productivity 
of the soil. Still other observers blame land reform measures, which 
coincided with the decline of the cultivated and irrigated areas. Each 
view is probably somewhat valid. 

In the future, expansion of the cultivated area will be slow and 
costly. Although the Euphrates irrigation projects will provide water 
to bring additional land under cultivation, growth will be partly 
offset by the loss of arable land to urban expansion, roads, and 
other facilities for a growing population. After the disappointing 
results of the Euphrates irrigation projects through the mid-1980s, 
the government began to develop rain-fed agriculture to offset 
potential setbacks in the Euphrates scheme. Drainage investments 
also will be required to maintain cultivation on some irrigated areas 
that currently suffer from waterlogging or excessive salinity. 

Land Reform 

The dynamism of the agricultural sector caused by the opening 
of new farmland in the north and northeast through investments 
of wealthy merchants worsened the situation for the poor and often 
landless rural population. In 1950 the first Syrian constitution placed 
a limit on the size of landholdings, but the necessary implement- 
ing legislation was not passed until 1958, after the union of Syria 
and Egypt. 

The 1958 agrarian reform laws were similar to those in Egypt 
and not only limited the size of landholdings but also provided 
sharecroppers and farm laborers with greater economic and legal 
security and a more equitable share of crops. The Agricultural 
Relations Law laid down principles to be observed in administer- 
ing tenancy leases, protected tenants against arbitrary eviction, and 


Syria: A Country Study 

reduced, under a fixed schedule, the share of crops taken by land- 
lords. It also authorized agricultural laborers to organize unions 
and established commissions to review and fix minimum wages for 
agricultural workers. 

However, by the time Syria withdrew from the merger with Egypt 
in 1961, opposition from large landowners, administrative difficul- 
ties, and severe crop failures during the prolonged 1958-61 drought 
had effectively curtailed movement toward land reform. The con- 
servative regime in power from 1961 until March 1963 blocked 
implementation of the land reform program in practice by enact- 
ing a number of amendments to the original law that substantially 
raised the ceilings on ownership and opened loopholes. 

Shortly after the Baath Party seized power in March 1963, Decree 
Law 88 of 1963 was promulgated, canceling the actions of the previ- 
ous regime and reinstating the original agrarian reform laws with 
important modifications. One of the most significant modifications 
was lowering the limit on the size of holdings and providing flexi- 
bility in accordance with the productivity of the land. The new ceil- 
ings on landownership were set at between 15 and 55 hectares on 
irrigated land and between 80 and 300 hectares on rain-fed land, 
depending on the area and rainfall. Land in excess of the ceilings 
was to be expropriated within five years. The compensation pay- 
able to the former owners was fixed at 10 times the average 3-year 
rental value of the expropriated land, plus interest on the principal 
at the rate of 1.5 percent for 40 years. 

The expropriated land was to be redistributed to tenants, land- 
less farmers, and farm laborers in holdings of up to a maximum 
of eight hectares of irrigated land or thirty to forty-five hectares 
of rain-fed land per family. Beneficiaries of the redistribution pro- 
gram were required to form state-supervised cooperatives. The 1963 
law reduced the price of redistributed land to the beneficiaries to 
the equivalent of one-fourth of the compensation for expropria- 
tion. The land recipients paid this amount in equal installments 
to their cooperatives over a twenty-year period to finance such 
cooperative activities as development, dispensaries, schools, and 
cultural centers. 

By 1975 (the latest available data in early 1987) 1.4 million hect- 
ares (68,000 hectares of irrigated land) had been expropriated, 
primarily in the early years of the program. Distribution moved 
much more slowly. By 1975, redistributed land had amounted to 
466,000 hectares (61,000 hectares of irrigated land) and undistrib- 
uted land to 351,000 hectares. In addition, there were 254,000 hec- 
tares of land that had been allocated to cooperatives, ministries, and 
other organizations and 330,000 hectares that were categorized as 


The Economy 

excluded and sold land. Although it was far from clear what the 
disposition was in the latter two categories, the statistical data gave 
the impression that land reform had not transformed the former 
numerous farm sharecroppers and laborers into landowners. This 
impression was supported by government data indicating that 
slightly more than 50,000 family heads (over 300,000 people) had 
received land under the reform program. In addition, at various 
times the government offered state farmland for sale to the land- 
less on the same terms as expropriated land, but reported sales were 
relatively small; farmers apparently chose to lease the land. 

Most observers credited land reform measures with liquidating 
concentration of very large estates and weakening political power 
of landowners. Some government data of uncertain coverage and 
reliability indicated that before land reform more than half of 
agricultural holdings consisted of 100 hectares or more, but after 
reform such large holdings amounted to less than 1 percent. The 
same data showed that smallholdings (7 hectares or less) had 
increased from about one-eighth before land reform to just over 
one-half of total holdings after reform and that 42 percent of hold- 
ings were between 8 and 25 hectares. Other government statistics 
indicated that holdings of 25 hectares or less, representing 30 per- 
cent of all land under cultivation before 1959, represented 93 per- 
cent in 1975. A May 1980 order mandated additional expropriations 
and further reduced the size of agricultural holdings. Data from 
the 1970 census revealed that the average landholding was about 
ten hectares and that one-fifth of the rural population remained 
landless. Despite the Baath Party's commitment to land reform, 
the private sector controlled 74 percent of Syria's arable land in 

Role of Government in Agriculture 

Government involvement in agriculture was minimal prior to 
Syria's union with Egypt. Although state intervention in the agricul- 
tural sector increased following the union, the government avoided 
playing a direct role in cultivation. In 1984 private farmers tilled 
74 percent of the cultivated land, cooperatives 25 percent, and public 
organizations (essentially state farms) 1 percent. 

Government involvement arose indirectly from socialist trans- 
formation measures in various parts of the economy and directly 
from government efforts to fill the void in the countryside caused 
by land reform. As an example of the former, the Agricultural 
Cooperative Bank, a private bank established in the eighteenth cen- 
tury but inherited by the socialist regime, in the mid-1960s became 
the single source for direct production credits to farmers (see 


Apricot paste drying in the Al Ghutah Oasis near Damascus 

Banking and Monetary Policy, this ch.). The bank had limited 
funds and confined itself almost completely to short-term financ- 
ing, the bulk of which went to cotton growers. Part of its lending 
was in kind — primarily seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers at subsi- 
dized prices. Although the bank appeared effective, there was 
insufficient credit through the 1960s and early 1970s for farmers 
who did not grow cotton and for long-term loans for such needs 
as machinery or capital improvements. In the mid-1970s, the flow 
of funds to the bank increased, thus allowing it to expand its lend- 
ing to the agricultural sector. The bank became an important 
influence in shaping farmers' production decisions, particularly con- 
cerning cotton. 

In the 1960s, government marketing organizations for the major 
agricultural commodities were established. The Cotton Market- 
ing Organization had a complete monopoly. Organizations for 
tobacco and sugar beets had purchasing monopolies, set the farm 
purchase prices, and supervised the processing and marketing of 
their respective commodities. An organization for grains set prices, 
purchased some of the farmers' surplus, and supervised the mar- 
keting of the remainder through private dealers. The government 
also set prices for several other agricultural commodities, most 
imports, and many consumer items. 

Some economists attributed part of the stagnation in agriculture 
to the government's pricing of farm produce. Farm prices remained 


The Economy 

unchanged over long periods and by the 1970s and 1980s were quite 
low relative to world prices. Some smuggling out of farm products 
for sale in Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon resulted as well as some 
black marketing in controlled commodities. Pricing also was not 
coordinated to achieve agricultural goals. Although the Ministry 
of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform attempted to get farmers to 
increase wheat production, the government's desire to keep basic 
food costs low for urban consumers imposed low grain prices for 
farmers. The ministry also urged farmers to shift irrigated areas 
from cotton to wheat at the same time that the farm price of cot- 
ton was raised relative to that of wheat. 

Aware of the problems, officials made efforts to improve pric- 
ing policy. By 1977 prices paid to farmers had risen substantially 
and favored grains and some industrial crops over cotton. In fact, 
the 1977 prices (when converted to United States dollars at the offi- 
cial exchange rate) paid to farmers for wheat, soybeans, and sugar 
beets were substantially higher (more than 100 percent for wheat) 
than the prices paid to American farmers for those products. In 
1985 the government again raised procurement prices for a variety 
of crops. Prices for hard wheat rose by 9 percent, soft wheat by 
14 percent, red lentils by 13 percent, white lentils by 18 percent, 
and barley by 22 percent from the preceding year. 

When land reform was introduced, those receiving expropriated 
or government land were required to join farm cooperatives. 
Cooperatives were expected to furnish the organization, techniques, 
credit, and joint use of machinery to replace and expand the func- 
tions supplied by the landowners and managers of the large estates. 
Syrian farmers' individualism and aversion to cooperatives may 
explain their apparent preference for renting land from the govern- 
ment rather than buying the land and having to join a coopera- 
tive. Whether the cause was aversion by farmers or an inability 
by the government to organize and staff cooperatives, as some 
economists suggest, the cooperative movement grew slowly until 
the early 1970s but accelerated thereafter. In 1976 there were 3,385 
agricultural cooperatives with 256,000 members — more than double 
the number and membership in 1972. By 1984 there were 4,050 
agricultural cooperatives with 440,347 members. Statistics do not 
distinguish between cooperatives for farmers receiving expropri- 
ated or government land and voluntary cooperatives of established 

Officials expected cooperatives eventually to mitigate, if not 
eliminate, two serious agricultural problems. First, farmers tended 
to specialize in certain crops without practicing crop rotation. 
Second, substantial amounts of arable land were left fallow each 


Syria: A Country Study 

year. In the 1970s, government extension workers and coopera- 
tives strongly urged farmers to rotate cropping in a pattern that 
would maintain the fertility of the soil and avoid having cultivable 
fields left fallow. Cooperatives were also expected to facilitate the 
use of machinery after land reform reduced the average size of 
farms, partly by cooperative ownership of equipment and partly 
by pooling small plots into an economically sized bloc that would 
then be cultivated as a single unit in the cropping rotation. By 1986 
it was not clear how much success cooperatives had achieved in 
crop rotation or mechanization, but statistics showed an acceler- 
ated use of farm equipment by the agricultural sector after the 
October 1973 War. 

Cropping and Production 

Because only about 16 percent of the cropped area was irrigated, 
the output of agriculture (both plant and animal) was heavily depen- 
dent on rainfall. The great variation in the amounts and timing 
of rainfall can immediately cause very substantial shifts in areas 
planted, yields, and production, but the effect on livestock is less 
predictable. When drought is unusually severe or prolonged, loss 
of animals may depress livestock production for several years. 

In 1984 crop production accounted for 72 percent of the value 
of agricultural output; livestock and animal products, 28 percent. 
Livestock alone, not counting products such as milk, wool, and 
eggs, amounted to 11 percent of the total. 

In 1984 crop production amounted to LSI 3. 6 billion. The United 
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) valued Syrian 1985 
production at US$1.1 billion. Grains contributed 15 percent to the 
value of total crop production in 1984, in contrast to 41 percent in 
1974. Industrial crops remained 20 percent of the total. Fruits rose 
from 15 to 25 percent of the total, and vegetables rose from 16 to 
35 percent. In 1984 grain continued to be planted on 66 percent 
of the cultivated land, consistent with the mid-1970s percentage. 

Fluctuations in rainfall resulted in major variations in crop 
production throughout the 1980s. In 1980 wheat was planted on 
1.4 million hectares, yielding 2.2 million tons — the largest wheat 
harvest since the early 1960s. In 1984 wheat planted on 1 . 1 mil- 
lion hectares produced only 1.1 million tons (see table 9, Appen- 
dix). In 1980 and 1984, barley was planted on 1 .2 million hectares, 
but production fell from 1.6 million tons in 1980, the peak year, 
to 303,500 tons in 1984, revealing the impact of the drought on 
rain-dependent crops. In 1985 wheat and barley crops rebounded 
to 1.7 million tons and 740,000 tons, respectively. In 1984 Syria 
grew a record 60,000 tons of corn. 


The Economy 

Earlier stagnation of agricultural output meant primarily stag- 
nation of grain production. Instead of exporting wheat, in the 1980s, 
Syria became a net importer. In 1985 Syria imported 1.4 million 
tons of wheat, worth more than LS800 million. In addition, cereal 
imports rose from LS368 million in 1982 to LSI. 6 billion in 1984, 
amounting to 56 percent of the LS2.9 billion spent on food imports 
that year. 

During the 1970s and 1980s, the government encouraged greater 
grain production by providing improved high-yield seeds, raising 
prices paid to farmers, and urging shifts toward wheat growing on 
some irrigated land formerly planted in cotton. Its intent was to 
raise grain output at least to self-sufficiency to ease the pressure 
on the balance of payments. 

Beginning in the late 1970s, the government showed increased 
interest in improving rain-fed agriculture and acquired funding 
from the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural 
Development, and the United Nations Development Program for 
a US$76.3 million project to expand food production and raise the 
standard of living in Dar'a and As Suwayda provinces. In addi- 
tion, Syrian agriculture benefited from research projects under- 
taken by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the 
Dry Areas (ICARDA) branch office located near Aleppo. ICARDA 
helped develop the Sham-1 durum wheat and Sham-2 bread wheat 
used by Syrian farmers in the mid-1980s and demonstrated through 
its research the positive effect of phosphate fertilizers on barley crops 
in dry areas, encouraging the government to consider a change 
in agricultural strategy. 

In the 1980s, vegetables and fruits exhibited the fastest growth 
rates of the various crops, although they started from a low base. 
Urbanization and rising incomes spurred cultivation of these 
products, which were also generally exempt from official price con- 
trol. Fruits and vegetables were grown primarily in the northwest 
and the coastal plain in irrigated fields and in areas where rainfall 
and groundwater were greatest. However, Syria lagged considera- 
bly behind Lebanon in cultivation of fruits and vegetables in simi- 
lar terrain, and seasonal fruits were consistently smuggled in from 
Lebanon in the 1980s. 

Syria has produced cotton since ancient times, and its cultiva- 
tion increased in importance in the 1950s and 1960s. Until super- 
seded by petroleum in 1974, cotton was Syria's most important 
industrial and cash crop and the country's most important foreign 
exchange earner, accounting for about one-third of Syria's export 
earnings. In 1976 the country was the tenth largest cotton producer 
in the world and the fourth largest exporter. 


Harvesting cotton in A I Ladhiqiyah Province 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

Almost all the cotton was grown on irrigated land, largely in the 
area northeast of Aleppo. Syrian cotton was medium staple, simi- 
lar to cotton produced in other developing countries but of lower 
quality than the extra-long staple variety produced in Egypt. The 
cotton was handpicked, although mechanical pickers were tried 
unsuccessfully in the 1970s in an attempt to hold down rising labor 

Cotton production (cotton lint) rose from 13,000 tons in 1949 
to 180,000 tons in 1965. However, land reform and nationaliza- 
tion of the cotton gins precipitated a sharp decline in output in the 
next few years. Beginning in 1968 and during the 1970s, annual 
lint production hovered around 150,000 tons. However, in 1983 
Syria enjoyed a record cotton crop of 526,000 tons, the third highest 
yield in the world, estimated at 3 tons per hectare. To a large mea- 
sure, this increase was attributable to the government's raising cot- 
ton procurement prices by 44 percent in 1981-82 and by another 
20 percent in 1982-83. 

Although the area under cotton cultivation has declined since 
the early 1960s, yields have increased as a result of improved variet- 
ies of seed and increasing amounts of fertilizer. The area planted 
dropped from over 250,000 hectares in the early 1960s to 140,000 
hectares in 1980. In response to the jump in procurement prices 
by 1984, it increased to 178,000 hectares. 


The Economy 

As domestic consumption of cotton increased in the 1960s and 
1970s, the government built several textile mills to gain the value 
added from exports of fabrics and clothes compared with exports 
of raw cotton. In the 1980s, cotton exports averaged 120,000 tons, 
ranging from a low of 72,800 tons to a record of 151,000 tons in 
1983. Syria's seed cotton harvest was 462,000 tons in 1985, about 
3 percent higher than in 1984. Approximately 1 10,000 tons of the 
1985 harvest were destined for export markets. Major foreign cus- 
tomers in 1985 included the Soviet Union (18,000 tons), Algeria 
(14,672 tons), Italy (13,813 tons), and Spain (10,655 tons). 

The government's goal of expanding and diversifying food 
production created intense competition for irrigated land and 
encouraged the practice of double cropping. Because cotton did 
not lend itself to double cropping, the area devoted to cotton was 
declining in real terms. However, the total area under cultivation 
and the significance of other industrial crops substantially increased 
during the 1980s. 

For example, the government initiated policies designed to stimu- 
late sugar beet cultivation to supply the sugar factories built in the 
1970s and 1980s. The area under cultivation for sugar beets rose 
from 22,000 hectares in 1980 to 35,700 hectares in 1984. Sugar 
beet harvests totaled about 1.3 million tons in 1984, but Syria still 
imported LS287 million worth of sugar that year. The USDA 
estimated that Syria would achieve self-sufficiency in tobacco in 
1985 and have harvests of 12.3 million tons (dry weight) compared 
with 12.2 million tons in 1984. Although yields per hectare fell 
slightly in 1985, the USDA expected imports to match exports. 
In 1984 Syria imported 559 tons of tobacco and exported 225 tons. 
Other important commercial crops included olives and tomatoes. 

Animal Products 

During the 1960s, the output of animal products stagnated along 
with crop production. The majority of Syria's livestock popula- 
tion consisted of sheep and goats of mainly indigenous breeds — 
multipurpose animals raised for meat, milk, and wool or hair. 
Although the private sector continued to dominate livestock farm- 
ing, the government marshaled considerable resources, raising out- 
put in the mid-1970s. Between 1976 and 1984, the number of sheep 
almost doubled from 6.5 to 12.7 million. Goats numbered 950,000 
in 1976 and increased to 1.1 million in 1985. Sheep raising 
accounted for about 65 percent of all meat produced and about 
one-third of the milk and milk products. In 1984 sheep produced 
353,000 tons of milk, cows produced 579,000 tons, and goats 
produced 73,000 tons. About 35,000 beduin families, largely 


A Country Study 

located in arid and semiarid regions, took about three-fifths of the 
sheep on annual migrations into the desert and steppe for grazing 
after the winter rainy season. When the sparse natural vegetation 
dried up, the flocks returned to cultivated areas, where they fed 
on crop stubble and grass and weeds growing on fallow land. Many 
of the animals became diseased, and the migrations were difficult, 
particularly when rainfall was light. The beduin primarily depended 
on sheep raising for their income, and they were part of the poorest 
segment of the population, having incomes generally less than half 
the national average. 

About two-fifths of the sheep were raised by farm families to sup- 
plement cash income and food production. Because most sheep rais- 
ing occurred in western Syria where rainfall was heaviest, these 
sheep obtained a large share of their feed from crop residue and 
even some regular fodder and concentrated feed mixes. Sheep fat- 
tening in feed yards has been long-established in western Syria. 

In the early 1970s, a serious shortage of milk, meat, and eggs 
had developed for a population that already averaged a low level 
of meat consumption and had a deficiency of protein in the diet. 
In response, the government intensified efforts to increase produc- 
tion of animal products and particularly to improve conditions for 
beduin sheep raisers. A number of small dams were constructed 
and wells sunk to provide water for nomadic flocks, the area planted 
in fodder was enlarged, veterinarian field clinics providing free 
animal vaccinations were established (although they were chroni- 
cally short of staff and medicines), and shelters were built and 
stocked with feed in migratory areas. 

The establishment of cooperatives in the mid-1970s improved 
range management, extension services, availability of reasonable 
credit, and supply and marketing activities for families engaged 
in sheep raising, whose incomes had been smaller than those of 
the beduin. In the mid-1970s, there were fourteen sheep-breeding 
and thirty-seven sheep-fattening cooperatives. By the mid-1980s, 
the number of sheep-breeding cooperatives had grown to 318, and 
sheep-fattening cooperatives totaled 66. In 1974 the government 
established a state-run organization responsible for the supply, 
storage, distribution, and marketing of animal feed. Although the 
number of sheep increased substantially from 1976 to 1984, it was 
not clear whether the increase was a direct response to the govern- 
ment's program or a result of periods of good rainfall that occurred 
before the 1984 drought. In spite of increased sheep raising, in the 
mid-1980s, Syria remained a net importer of meat. Syria imported 
4,550 tons of meat in 1984 valued at LS23 million, compared with 
12,176 tons of meat in 1983 valued at LS90 million. 


The Economy 

Shortages of milk, meat, and eggs encouraged large investments 
in poultry and dairy production. Poultry production expanded 
rapidly in the 1970s because of the establishment of several large- 
scale, commercial-style chicken farms. In the mid-1980s, Syria 
became self-sufficient in poultry, meat, and eggs. In 1984 annual 
poultry production reached 1.5 million chickens, 80,000 tons of 
poultry meat, and 1.8 billion eggs, an increase of approximately 
half a billion eggs above 1979 levels. Syria's private sector was 
responsible for 91 percent of this output. 

In 1984 cattle totaled 736,000, including 501,000 dairy cows that 
produced 579,000 tons of milk. Cattle were located primarily in 
western Syria and in areas with substantial irrigation. In the 
mid-1970s, several large farms were constructed to accommodate 
imported high-yield dairy cows. Cattle were imported from Tur- 
key and Eastern Europe for fattening to provide meat to domestic 
markets in the mid-1980s. The government also established two 
artificial insemination centers, encouraged the formation of dairy 
cooperatives, and expanded extension services. Despite these mea- 
sures, in the mid-1980s Syria remained a net importer of milk and 
milk products, importing LS255 million worth of milk and milk 
products in 1984. 

Agricultural Potential 

In the mid-1980s, the government redirected its energies toward 
revitalizing the agricultural sector. Despite substantial increases 
in the 1985 investment budget allocations for agriculture, there was 
no quick solution to the problem of sustaining agricultural growth. 
Although since the 1950s farmers had steadily expanded use of fer- 
tilizers and new seeds and had adopted new techniques, which 
improved productivity in cotton, fruit, and vegetable cultivation, 
agricultural development had stagnated. Socialist transformation 
of the economy and the expanded role of the state in all aspects 
of economic life combined with the political instability of the 1960s 
to disrupt agriculture. Although the state drew up plans to use 
Syria's water resources more efficiently by expanding irrigation 
systems in the 1970s and 1980s, the government failed to devise 
an agricultural policy with appropriate incentives and pricing 
mechanisms to stimulate output. Although low rainfall in the early 
1980s and the prolonged drought of 1984 had an impact on agricul- 
tural output, economists linked agriculture's poor performance in 
the 1970s and early 1980s to government policy. The government's 
renewed interest in agricultural development in the mid-1980s 
signaled guarded optimism for the future; economists questioned, 
however, whether Syria could raise future animal and crop 


Manufacturing cotton yarn 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

production above its astoundingly high 3.7 percent annual popu- 
lation growth rate. 


Manufacturing, other than that represented by traditional handi- 
crafts, textiles, and animal-powered flour mills, is a post-World 
War II addition to the Syrian economy. Requirements of Allied 
forces stationed in Syria during the war and shortages of imported 
goods for local consumption stimulated industrial development, and 
wealthy merchants and landowners channeled resources into 
industrial expansion. Factories established in the 1950s and 1960s 
processed local agricultural goods and manufactured a wide range 
of light consumer products. Although the nationalization measures 
of the 1960s disrupted privately financed industrial expansion, in 
the 1970s the state embarked on a major industrial development 
program stressing heavy industry. Between 1953 and the mid-1970s, 
the growth rate of the industrial sector was 8.3 percent (in con- 
stant prices) — a major factor in the rise in incomes and in the 
improvement in standards of living. Manufacturing (including 
extractive industries and power generation) contributed 22.4 per- 
cent of GDP in 1976 but only about 13.4 percent in 1984 as the 
state committed scarce resources to completing existing projects 
rather than to initiating new ones. The public sector dominated 


The Economy 

the chemical, cement and other construction materials, engineer- 
ing, sugar, food, and various textile-manufacturing industries. The 
private sector, stymied by government restrictions, concentrated 
on certain textiles, electrical and paper products, leather goods, 
and machinery. 

Energy and Natural Resources 

Although Syria's crude oil reserves were small and production 
minor by Arab and international standards, in the 1970s and 1980s 
petroleum extraction played a vital role in Syria's economy, gener- 
ating much-needed foreign exchange. However, the size of Syria's 
proven crude oil reserves remained secret. In 1977 United States 
government figures placed Syria's proven oil reserves at 2.2 billion 
barrels. International sources estimated that Syria's crude oil 
reserves had fallen to 1.5 billion barrels by the end of 1983, indi- 
cating a life span of no more than 20 years at 1984 production levels. 
Some publications listed substantially higher reserves (perhaps 
reflecting total rather than recoverable reserves) that appeared large 
in relation to Syrian production data in the 1980s. 

Although Syria awarded its first oil concession to foreign firms 
in the 1930s, it did not emerge as an oil producer until the late 
1960s. In 1956 an American company discovered oil at Qarah Shuk 
(also known as Karachuk) in the northeast near the Iraqi border. 
In 1959 a West German firm discovered the Suwaydiyah field, 
located about fifteen kilometers south of the first oil discovery. The 
Syrian government nationalized the oil industry in 1964, and in 
the late 1960s the Syrian General Petroleum Company (SGPC),the 
national oil company, brought the two fields on stream with Soviet 
assistance. Although Suwaydiyah initially averaged 20,000 barrels 
per day (bpd — see Glossary) and Qarah Shuk produced 30,000 bpd, 
the oil from both fields carried American Petroleum Institute (API) 
quality ratings of 25.5 and 19, respectively. Both had high sulfur 
contents, confirming the poor quality of Syrian oil. Syria became 
an oil exporter in 1968 with the completion of a 663-kilometer pipe- 
line to transport oil to a terminal at Tartus on the Mediterranean 
coast. Both the Qarah Shuk and the Suwaydiyah fields continued 
to produce oil into the 1980s (see fig. 11). 

Oil exploration intensified in the 1970s. The SGPC discovered 
the Rumaylan field, about 10 kilometers southwest of Qarah Shuk, 
which had produced over 39 million barrels of oil by mid- 1984. 
Smaller fields also produced minor amounts of heavy crude in the 
1970s. The Jubaysah field, located about 150 kilometers southwest 
of Qarah Shuk, came on stream in 1975. It had a 40.2 API crude 
oil rating but a 0.6 percent sulfur content, suggesting that Syria 


A Country Study 

Figure 11. Economic Activity 

might look forward to discovering major quantities of light crude. 
In 1974 the government eased the way for the return of foreign 
contractors, granting a Romanian company a production-sharing 
concession. Western companies returned in 1977 when Pecten, a 
Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary, won a 20,000-square-kilometer 
exploration concession in north central Syria. The Syrian Ameri- 
can Oil Company and Samoco, a subsidiary of the American-based 
Coastal States Gas Corporation, won the 15,570-square-kilometer 
concession to exploit the resources of Dayr az Zawr Province in 
1977. Deminex, a West German company, joined the group in 
1979. In 1983, after Samoco dropped out, Deminex joined Pecten 
in an expanded concession of 21 ,800 square kilometers. Pecten held 
31.25 percent, Royal Dutch Shell 31.25 percent, and Deminex the 
remaining 37.5 percent. Chevron, Pennzoil, and Marathon Oil 
also won exploration concessions in the 1980s. Marathon's two wells 
at Sharifah, near Horns, produced promising results for gas 


The Economy 

exploitation from 1983 to 1985. The SGPC also continued explo- 
ration and drilling to bring the small, newly discovered Qayrik, 
Wahab, Said, and As Safih fields on stream by the mid-1980s. The 
1984 discovery of large quantities of light, sweet crude oil at the 
Pecten consortium's Thayim field near Dayr az Zawr gave a much- 
needed boost to the Syrian oil industry and economy. The Dayr 
az Zawr oil, ranked at 36 API with a low sulfur content, offered 
the prospect that Syria could cut by up to US$200 million its own 
imports of light crude oil required for use in domestic refineries 
in the 1990s. Early production estimates confirmed an initial out- 
put of 50,000 bpd when the Thayim field came on stream in late 
1986. In 1985 the SGPC and Pecten formed the Furat Oil Com- 
pany to operate the concession with the state. In 1986 Czecho- 
slovakia's Technoexport completed a ninety-two-kilometer spur line 
linking the Thayim field to the Iraqi-Syrian pipeline, unused since 
1982. Syrian government officials estimated that production lev- 
els at Dayr az Zawr would rise to 100,000 bpd in 1988. 

Syria's oil production remained virtually static in the mid-1980s. 
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) put production at 162,000 
bpd for 1985 (see table 10, Appendix). Excluding the new Dayr 
az Zawr discovery, however, Syria claimed production of approxi- 
mately 170,000 bpd in 1985, blending one-third of its heavy sul- 
furous domestic crude with two-thirds imported light oil. Domestic 
consumption of oil products averaged around 190,000 bpd in the 
mid-1980s; up to 120,000 bpd of this total came from Iran in 1985. 

Oil contributed about 10 percent to Syria's GDP through the 
1980s. Following the rapid rise of world oil prices in 1973, oil 
became Syria's chief source of foreign exchange. The value of 
Syria's oil exports rose from LS291 million in 1973 to LSI .6 billion 
in 1974 and almost doubled to LS2.6 billion in 1976, accounting 
for 63 percent of total exports. In 1979 the total export value of 
oil reached 68.9 percent before declining to 51.4 percent in 1982 
and rising slightly to about 55 percent in 1984 and 1985. However, 
Syria's oil and petroleum products' trade surplus of the late 1970s 
(and 1980) turned into a deficit in the 1980s. The 1980 surplus 
of LS2.4 billion fell to a deficit of LS767 million in 1984, making 
Syria's ability to boost domestic production and reduce oil imports 
an economic imperative of the 1990s. 

Since 1982, when Syria closed its oil pipeline from Iraq and 
stopped purchasing Iraqi oil as a show of support for Iran in the 
Iran-Iraq War (see Regional Foreign Relations, ch. 4), Iran has 
supplied large quantities of oil to Syria on concessionary terms and 
as outright gifts. In 1984 Iran provided Syria with 6.4 million tons 
of oil, discounted by US$2.50 per barrel, and 1 .6 million tons free, 


Syria: A Country Study 

for a total of 8 million tons. In 1985 Iran supplied Syria with 
6 million tons of oil, including a 1 -million ton gift. However, Iran 
interrupted supplies in October 1985 because of Syria's estimated 
US$1.5 billion payment arrears and price disagreements. Syria 
turned briefly to Arab suppliers on the spot market, further deplet- 
ing foreign exchange reserves, before Iran negotiated a new agree- 
ment with Syria in July 1986, guaranteeing the supply of 2.5 million 
tons of oil between October 1986 and March 1987. 

Until oil prices jumped in the early 1970s, Syria earned more 
from the international pipelines that crossed its territory than from 
domestic oil production. In the early 1950s, Tapline (Trans- Arabian 
Pipeline) — running from the oil fields in Saudi Arabia across Jor- 
dan and the southwest corner of Syria to the terminal of Sidon on 
the Lebanese coast — was completed. Capacity was 25 million tons 
of crude oil a year. Syria earned small amounts of foreign exchange 
from transit fees (reportedly US$2.8 million in the mid-1970s) for 
the oil crossing the country via Tapline. Various interruptions of 
pipeline operations, escalating transit fees, and the reopening of 
the Suez Canal in June 1975 reduced the use of Tapline in the 
1970s. Pumping via Tapline was suspended in 1977 while Syria 
negotiated a new arrangement with Lebanon. In 1987 observers 
were pessimistic about the future uses of Tapline. 

The larger and more important pipeline carried crude oil from 
the former Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) fields across Syria via 
Horns, after which the pipeline branched, with one spur leading 
to Tripoli in Lebanon and the other spur leading to the Syrian ter- 
minal at Baniyas. The IPC pipeline (actually three separate lines) 
had a capacity of about 55 million tons a year in the 1970s. The 
pipeline began operation in the early 1950s, providing transit fees 
as well as the crude oil that was refined at the Homs refinery into 
products for Syrian consumption. In the 1960s, Syria frequently 
used its control of the pipeline for political leverage over Iraq, which 
depended on the pipeline across Syria until the late 1970s, when 
its pipeline through Turkey began operation. 

Transit rates increased substantially after 1966. In the early 
1970s, earnings from the pipelines were more important than direct 
taxes and one of the most important sources of budget revenue. 
These earnings peaked in 1974 at LS608 million and were esti- 
mated at LS575 million in the 1975 budget. In April 1976, however, 
Iraq canceled the transit agreement because of price disputes and 
cut off oil supplies to Syria. Saudi Arabia supplied oil for the Homs 
refinery until February 1979, when Iraq and Syria negotiated a 
new agreement, setting transit fees at US$0.35 per barrel compared 
with US$0.45 when the pumping stopped. In 1979 Iraq pumped 


The Economy 

10 million tons of oil through the pipeline, approximately two-thirds 
less than the average amount pumped between 1971 and 1976. The 
outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980 again interrupted 
pumping, but it put Syria in a stronger position vis-a-vis the pipe- 
line, given Iraq's need for revenues to finance the war. Although 
pumping resumed in February 1981, Syria argued that the pipe- 
line cost more to operate (US$31 million in 1981) than it generated 
in transit fees (US$25.7 million in 1981). In April 1982, after 
negotiating an agreement to purchase oil from Iran, Syria closed 
the pipeline to Iraqi petroleum exports. 

By the mid-1980s, Syria had two domestic pipeline systems and 
two refineries. A crude oil line, with a capacity of 15 million tons 
a year in 1977, led from the fields in the northeast to a sea termi- 
nal at Tartus, with a spur to the refinery at Horns. Three pipe- 
lines for refined products from Horns (each with a capacity of 
350,000 tons a year) led to the major consumption centers of 
Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia. In 1984 the state-owned Syrian 
Company for Oil and Transport carried 9.5 million tons of crude 
through its pipeline, up from 8.9 million tons in 1983. In 1979 the 
new Baniyas refinery was also connected to the domestic crude oil 
and products pipeline system. 

The refinery at Horns was completed in 1959 and began process- 
ing Iraqi crude oil for local consumption. In 1977 the refinery's 
capacity stood at about 2.7 million tons, but after the sixth planned 
expansion in 1985, its capacity doubled to 5.4 million tons per year. 
The US$143 million project contracted to Czechoslovakia's Techno- 
export included the construction of a 480,000-ton-per-year hydro- 
genation unit, a 380,000-ton-per-year catalytic reformer, and two 
steam- and power-generating units. Four hundred Syrian workers 
received training in Czechoslovakia in 1985 in connection with the 
sixth expansion of the refinery. The seventh expansion of the 
refinery, scheduled to be completed in the late 1980s, involved the 
construction of a 100,000-ton-per-year base lubrication oil com- 
plex located at the Horns refinery. The Homs refinery used a blend 
of crude oil in the 1970s, mixing light Iraqi oil with heavy Syrian 
crude. Israeli bombing raids on Syria during the October 1973 War 
severely damaged the operating capacity of the Homs refinery, and 
the desulfurization unit was not fully repaired until 1976. After 
1982 Syria used imported Iranian oil with domestic products at 
the Homs refinery. In 1985 it processed 5,064,000 tons, down from 
5,197,000 tons in 1984. 

The Baniyas refinery was completed in 1979 at a cost of LSI . 1 
billion. The refinery's maximum capacity was 6 million tons. In 
its first year of production, the refinery produced only 1 .7 million 


Syria: A Country Study 

tons, but this figure more than doubled in 1982 to 4.4 million tons. 
In 1984 and 1985, the refinery operated at 95 percent of capacity, 
refining approximately 5.7 million tons of crude oil for an annual 
production value of LS4 billion. Principal products included high 
octane and regular gasoline, butane gas, jet fuel, asphalt, and sul- 
fur. The plant employed 2,250 workers in 1984, including 73 Roma- 
nian technicians — a sharp decline from the 450 Romanian technical 
advisers who assisted operations at the Baniyas refinery in 1982. 

Syria's natural gas was discovered in conjunction with oil- 
exploration operations in the northeast part of the country. In 1984 
proven gas reserves were estimated at 98.8 billion cubic meters and 
associated gas reserves at 33.3 billion cubic meters. Although into 
the 1980s most natural gas was flared, Syria began exporting small 
quantities of liquefied petroleum gas in late 1981. Marathon Oil 
made two promising gas discoveries in 1982 and 1985, finding a 
gas potential of 450 million cubic meters a day in 1982 at Sharif-2 
and 400 million cubic meters a day at Ash Shair 1 . The economic 
viability of Marathon's gas discoveries combined with uncertain 
market forces to cloud future exploitation of these resources. In 
1982 Syria awarded major contracts to Technoexport of Czecho- 
slovakia to build a gas treatment plant at Jubaysah and a gas trans- 
mission line to Horns for use in the Horns ammonia-urea plant. 
France also began construction on a gas treatment plant at 

Phosphate was the country's other major mineral resource. The 
government claimed reserves of 1 billion tons. The first government- 
operated mine, near Tadmur, began producing in 1971, and two 
others began operating in 1974. Syrian phosphate was low grade 
(about 30 percent concentration) and high in moisture. Installa- 
tion of a drying plant in one government-run mine in 1978 helped 
improve the quality and quantity of output. Production grew from 
800,000 tons in 1978 to 1.5 million tons in 1984 but fell slightly 
to 1.3 million tons in 1985. Syria exported about two-thirds of its 
phosphate in the 1980s, largely to East European countries as part 
of barter arrangements concluded between the governments. 
Although Syrian government officials anticipated that output would 
triple by 1988 to 5 million tons and by 2000 equal the output of 
Morocco, the world's largest producer, production levels have 
remained well below projected targets. In 1981 Syria's giant triple 
super phosphate plant, built by Romanian contractors at Horns, 
began production with a capacity of 450,000 tons of triple super 
phosphate and 800,000 tons of phosphate and phosphoric acid. 
Syria's production of phosphatic fertilizer more than doubled from 
1981 to 1984, rising from 68,333 tons to 191,176 tons. 


The Economy 

The other products of the extraction industries were minor. 
Natural asphalt was extracted at a coastal site and in the central 
part of the country. In 1976 production amounted to 125,000 
tons — a tremendous jump from the 31,000 tons or less produced 
in 1975; however, by 1984 production had declined to 52,000 tons. 

Pure rock salt deposits, totaling over 100 million tons, existed 
northwest of Dayr az Zawr. Expansion of the mine facilities in the 
early 1970s raised the potential capacity to over 250,000 tons a year, 
but production hovered around 50,000 tons through the mid-1970s. 
Production peaked at 102,000 tons in 1982 but fell back to 38,000 
tons in 1984. 

In addition, construction materials (sand, gravel, stone, and gyp- 
sum) were mined in various parts of the country. In 1986 Syria 
signed an agreement with Turkey establishing joint ventures for 
mineral exploration, and Soviet and Polish scientific missions dis- 
covered sizable iron ore deposits near Az Zabadani and Tadmur. 
In late 1986, the government also announced the discovery of sig- 
nificant quantities of diamonds. 

Electric Power 

At independence, only a small part of the population in the larger 
urban centers had access to electricity, and per capita consump- 
tion ranked among the lowest in the world. Small separate, local 
companies owned by private domestic or foreign interests supplied 
electricity. During the 1950s, capacity increased, and production 
expanded by an average of 12.4 percent a year. Rapid expansion 
continued, and during the 1960s, the state began a national grid. 
In 1976 electric power generation amounted to 1.7 billion kilowatt- 
hours, an average annual increase of over 14 percent since 1966. 

According to the Ministry of Electricity, electricity production 
rose from 3.7 billion kilowatt-hours in 1980 to 7.3 billion kilowatt- 
hours in 1984 and 7.6 billion kilowatt-hours in 1985. Annual pro- 
duction growth, however, fell from an average of 19 percent in 1980 
to only 10 percent in 1984 and 1985. By 1986 electricity consump- 
tion outstripped production, forcing power cutbacks of four hours 
a day throughout the country. Industry consumed 52 percent of 
total electricity in 1984, but some factories reported operational 
capacity of only 60 percent because of power shortages. 

In May 1986, the People's Council debated the electricity crisis, 
urging renewed efforts to ration electricity consumption and to 
devise new projects to increase power generation and distribution. 
Although the electric power industry was one of the fastest grow- 
ing sectors of the economy in the 1960s and 1970s (Syria even 
exported electricity to Lebanon and Jordan in the late 1970s), the 


state's success in providing electricity to ever greater numbers of 
the population in a remarkably short time paradoxically precipi- 
tated the crisis. 

Although the state nationalized electric power generation in 1951, 
the industry remained fragmented under local administration until 
a single national company emerged in 1965. In 1974, when the 
state created the Ministry of Electricity to supervise the develop- 
ment of the electric power supply, the national electrical company 
became an agency of the ministry. By 1976 nearly all of the coun- 
try's generating units were under the national electrical company 
and linked in a grid. At the end of 1984, the national system had 
an installed capacity of 2,834 megawatts, compared with 1,779 
megawatts in 1976. 

However, the 1980s witnessed a shocking and somewhat 
unanticipated decline in hydroelectric power production, the domi- 
nant source in the state's plan to increase electricity output. In 1979 
hydroelectric power generated 73 percent of the country's electricity, 
up from 55.6 percent in 1975. Hydroelectric power accounted for 
59 percent of installed nominal capacity in 1979. But by 1984, 
hydroelectric capacity produced only 820 megawatts (29 percent 
of total megawatts) and 1 .9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 
26 percent of the total. Thermal capacity generated 2,014 
megawatts, 71 percent of the total produced in 1984, and produced 
5.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 74 percent of the total. 

The precipitous decline of hydroelectric power generation resulted 
from technical and operational problems inherent in the Euphrates 
Dam. In the mid-1980s, the dam's 800-megawatt turbines oper- 
ated below capacity, often producing only one-third of projected 
output. The low level of water in Lake Assad, caused by poor rain- 
fall and Turkey's use of the Euphrates waters for its Keban and 
Ataturk dams, also contributed to the difficulties. Although the 
Euphrates Dam was the most important component in the state's 
plan to expand the national power system in the late 1960s and 
1970s, it failed to produce the expected 80 percent of the coun- 
try's electric power between 1977 and the early 1980s. 

In the early 1980s, Syria implemented few new projects to meet 
the growing demand for energy, but it planned extensions of existing 
power stations to expand production and new projects for the end 
of the decade. The Baniyas station, completed in 1981 for US$140 
million, anticipated a two-turbine, 165-megawatt extension in the 
late 1980s. The Suwaydiyah power station also expected to benefit 
from a 150-megawatt extension and four new turbines. At the 
Muhradah power station, located west of Hamah and completed 
in 1979, a major extension totaling US$195 million and financed 


The Economy 

largely by Persian Gulf development agencies was planned. The 
US$97 million Soviet-assisted Tishrin power plant (formerly known 
as Widan ar Rabih station) and another power station near Horns 
were under construction in the mid-1980s. 

In addition, the government considered constructing a nuclear 
power plant with Soviet assistance. In mid- 1983 Syria signed a pro- 
tocol with the Soviet Union to conduct feasibility studies and select 
an appropriate location for the country's first reactor. Although 
Syrian and Soviet officials had originally intended that a 
1 ,200-megawatt nuclear plant come on line in 1990, the project 
had advanced little beyond the design stage by the mid-1980s. 
Although nuclear energy promised a solution to Syria's pressing 
electricity shortage, the political and military obstacles to Syria's 
developing nuclear energy were formidable, especially in the wake 
of Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. As nuclear 
power became a more costly alternative energy source in the context 
of volatile Middle East politics, in the late 1980s the government 
explored the prospects for solar energy. 

By 1978 a national grid linked nearly all of the country's gener- 
ating units and most of the larger towns; distribution extended to 
rural areas only in the west around such major cities as Damascus 
and Aleppo. In 1970, based on a housing census, about 85 per- 
cent of the urban population had access to electricity, but only about 
10 percent of the rural population did. According to government 
statistics, 40 percent of the population remained without electricity 
in 1980. However, by the middle of the decade, almost all of the 
urban population had received electricity. Rural electrification 
projects, a top priority of the Ministry of Electricity in the 1970s, 
had also achieved widespread success. The government planned 
extending electricity to all villages with over 100 inhabitants by 
1990. The number of villages receiving electricity grew from 424 
prior to 1975 to 1,581 in 1979 and had reached 5,894 in 1984. In 
Ar Raqqah Province alone, the number of electrified villages 
increased from 47 in the period from 1953 to 1979 to 405 in 1984, 
indicating the dramatic extension of electricity to rural areas. The 
number of subscribers in rural areas tripled between 1970 and 1984, 
increasing from 442,307 to 1,564,625. 

In the mid-1980s, there was an electricity crisis caused by 
expansion of electric power distribution and usage in the 1970s, 
sectoral mismanagement, lack of spare parts for power plants, tech- 
nical impediments, and declining water levels in Lake Assad. Syrian 
official statistics and Ministry of Electricity data projected that con- 
sumption, growing at an annual rate of 20 to 22 percent in the 
mid-1980s, would outstrip production until the mid-1990s. Syria 


Syria: A Country Study 

could meet the surging demand for electricity in the mid-1980s only 
by producing 300 to 400 additional megawatts a year. However, 
with only one 25-megawatt unit at the Baath Dam scheduled to 
come on line in late 1986, ambiguous plans for 1987, a 
320-megawatt increase projected for 1988, and a 400-megawatt 
increase expected when the Tishrin station begins production in 
1989, Ministry of Electricity plans fell far short of satisfying demand. 
The ministry's plans for the 1989-95 period projected a produc- 
tion increase to 2,970 megawatts to meet an anticipated demand 
ranging from 1,800 to 2,400 megawatts. The theoretical excess 
production, however, would barely meet the accumulated short- 
ages of the mid-1980s. Electricity shortages, blackouts, power cuts, 
and rationing remained a prominent feature of Syrian life in the 
late 1980s, frustrating industrial development and impeding eco- 
nomic growth. 

Industrial Development Policy 

Through most of the 1950s, private investment primarily fueled 
industrial development while the government protected public order 
and fostered a climate suitable for economic growth. After Syria 
withdrew from a customs union with Lebanon in 1950, domestic 
manufacturing received considerable protection from competition 
by imports. The government also provided investment incentives 
through tax exemptions and cheap credit. Although data for the 
1950s were sparse and of questionable reliability, they indicated 
that the growth rate of industrial production was about 12 percent 
a year between 1950 and 1958, substantially higher growth than 
for the economy as a whole. 

Between 1958 and 1965, Syria experienced an almost complete 
reversal of development policy. The government assumed a greater 
role in economic planning and by 1965 had nationalized most of 
the larger manufacturing concerns. Prior to nationalization in 1965, 
land reform, talk of socialism, and the 1961 nationalization decrees 
during the union with Egypt frightened private investors. In addi- 
tion, the government was unable to implement the investments 
included in the First Five-Year Plan. Consequently, the rate of 
increase of value added by industry amounted to an annual aver- 
age of 4 percent in constant prices between 1958 and 1965, although 
other factors, particularly a severe, prolonged drought (1958-61), 
contributed to the slower growth of industrial output. 

Through the complete or partial nationalization of 108 large and 
medium-sized enterprises, the state created the nucleus of the public 
industrial sector in January 1965. Thirty-seven firms were 
completely nationalized, and the other seventy-one firms were 


The Economy 

nationalized to an extent varying between 75 and 90 percent; 
however, these semipublic firms were fully nationalized in 1970, 
retroactive to 1965. 

After nationalization, most public sector industry was located 
under the Ministry of Industry and organized under four broad 
holding companies called unions — food, textiles, chemicals, and 
engineering unions. Separate ministries controlled the national elec- 
tric power and petroleum companies. In the mid-1970s, the SGPC 
was divided into several separate companies responsible for such 
particular functions as exploration and production, transport and 
terminals, refining, and domestic sales and distribution. 

After the 1965 nationalizations, the government dominated the 
economy and controlled most elements affecting industrial devel- 
opment, including planning, investments, foreign trade, pricing, 
and training. The planners avoided the temptation, succumbed to 
by many developing countries, of constructing large, expensive 
prestigious industrial projects that provided only small or distant 
returns. Most projects were geared to the size and needs of the 
Syrian economy. Development emphasized natural resources 
(essentially oil and phosphates for export), additional capacity for 
processing local materials (textiles, sugar refining, and cement), 
and import substitution (fertilizers, iron and steel, and consumer 

In the late 1970s and the 1980s, however, observers questioned 
government priorities that resulted in creation of large industries 
relying on import substitution. An example of domestic question- 
ing of the government's economic management occurred at the 
Eighth Baath Party Regional Congress in 1985. The issue of a 
planned sugar refinery — a prominent symbol of public sector domi- 
nation of an industrial sphere — generated significant debate. Critics 
challenged the wisdom of the project because the cost per kilogram 
of processed sugar would be several times the price of imported 
sugar. Completed in the late 1970s with a capacity of 1.6 million 
tons of sugar beets a year, the plant produced an average of only 
500,000 tons of sugar per year from 1980 to 1983. 

Since the late 1960s, economists generally have characterized 
Syrian public sector industry as inefficient, having underused 
capacity and high production costs. A number of factors contributed 
to inefficiency. For example, during the political instability of the 
1960s, rapid turnover of key personnel and selection of high offi- 
cials and managers on the basis of loyalty rather than qualifica- 
tions contributed to inefficiency. Wide swings in agricultural output 
because of variation in rainfall was another factor. In addition, 
government pricing created distortions and even undermined the 


A Country Study 

basis for judging efficiency; subsidies to plants were sometimes 
required because retail prices were kept low for consumers. 

Planning was also poor. For example, a US$100 million paper 
mill using straw for raw material went into production at Dayr az 
Zawr in 1979 but operated far below capacity, as officials realized 
that Syria barely produced enough straw to operate the mill. Fur- 
thermore, the cement works at Tartus were forced to cut produc- 
tion in half, falling from 5,000 to 2,500 tons a day in 1984, as a 
result of construction delays in the completion of a special unit to 
package the cement for export. However, the Eighth Baath Party 
Regional Congress endorsed a series of measures to correct public 
sector mismanagement, upgrade administrative capabilities, and 
revitalize the industrial sector as a stimulator of economic growth. 

The shortage of skilled workers and capable managers also 
plagued public sector manufacturing. Because of the nationaliza- 
tion drive and political instability of the 1960s, Syria experienced 
tremendous capital flight and a substantial exodus of administra- 
tors, engineers, physicians, and other technically skilled profes- 
sionals. The shortage of skilled labor intensified in the 1970s, as 
Syrian professionals found higher paying jobs and increased 
opportunities in the Persian Gulf states. In addition, many Syrians 
entered government service to gain experience and soon after went 
to work for private industries offering much higher salaries. 
Moreover, vocational training institutes could not keep pace with 
the needs of the economy. However, the shortage of skilled work- 
ers began to improve in the mid-1980s as Syrian workers came home 
to escape depressed economic conditions in the Persian Gulf states 
and invested accumulated capital in new enterprises. 

When Assad took control of the government in 1970, he introduced 
important modifications of economic policy. Although commitment 
to state socialism, central planning, and a large public sector 
remained firm, Assad liberalized controls and encouraged greater 
private sector industry. Encouragement to the private sector that 
extended to both domestic and foreign investors included decreased 
difficulty in obtaining construction permits and licenses for machinery 
imports plus various tax concessions. Although private investments 
in industry increased in the 1970s, domestic investors remained hesi- 
tant and foreign companies even more so, despite conclusion of 
bilateral investment guarantee agreements with the United States 
and some West European countries. Observers expected private 
investors gradually to increase their industrial activity if the govern- 
ment continued its liberalization policies. 

The government attempted to introduce growth in the industrial 
sector by ensuring the private sector a greater economic role. 


Syrian students receiving training 
in the operation of a bench lathe 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

Between 1965 and 1970, the growth rate of the index of manufac- 
turing (excluding extractive industries and public utilities) remained 
at 4 percent a year, revealing the largely static condition of manufac- 
turing. The general index for all industrial production increased 
by 7.8 percent a year over the same period, reflecting the impor- 
tance of the expansion of oil production after 1967. 

Although the results of the government initiative to stimulate 
private sector investment after 1970 could not be distinguished in 
available data from a rise in public sector industrial growth, the 
index for the combined output of public and private manufactur- 
ing (excluding extractive industries and public power) showed 
remarkable improvement between 1970 and 1976, averaging 9 per- 
cent a year. The increase in 1976 alone was 17 percent. Increased 
production by manufacturing derived from public sector invest- 
ments and reflected increasing government development expendi- 
tures since the mid-1960s. The increase also resulted from Syria's 
miniversion of the oil boom in 1974 and 1975, when industrial 
investments rose sharply as a result of increased aid from oil-rich 
Arab countries. Between 1980 and 1984, however, the general index 
for all industrial production increased only 6.8 percent a year, while 
the index for the combined output of public and private manufac- 
turing grew 13 percent per year. 


Syria: A Country Study 

In 1985 the government embarked on another liberalization cam- 
paign to encourage increased private sector investment in the 
productive sectors, as detailed in the fifth and sixth five-year 
development plans (see Development Planning, this ch.). Although 
the public sector continued to dominate the economy, the private 
sector's role grew in the 1980s, accounting for over 30 percent of 
GDP by 1984. The government hoped that its liberalization cam- 
paign would further boost the private sector's contribution to GDP 
in the 1990s. This hope was reflected in the final communique of 
the Eighth Baath Regional Congress, which recommended a more 
market-oriented approach to solving Syria's pressing economic 
problems. Accordingly, the government eased restrictions on the 
private sector and encouraged exports by establishing more com- 
petitive exchange rates for imports (see Banking and Monetary 
Policy, this ch.). The April 1985 reappointment of Muhammad 
Imadi, architect of Syria's economic opening in the 1970s, as 
minister of the economy and foreign trade, confirmed the govern- 
ment's desire to proceed with its liberalization program. Imadi, 
who had served as chairman of the Kuwait-based Arab Fund for 
Economic and Social Development in the early 1980s, urged 
widespread economic reforms to improve Syria's economic per- 
formance through private sector initiatives and joint ventures 
between the state and the private sector. 

In September 1985 President Assad approved Decree Law 356, 
which permitted importers for the first time to pay for raw materials, 
spare parts, and other industrial inputs with foreign currency earned 
through employment or investment outside the country. The severe 
foreign-exchange shortage of the 1980s, exacerbated by declining 
worker remittances from the Persian Gulf states and shrinking oil 
revenues, frustrated industry's efforts to acquire much-needed raw 
materials and forced factories to shut down or significantly reduce 
production. The state's tight currency controls and restrictions on 
imports caused businesses to channel imports illegally into Syria 
via Lebanon and produced a drastic decrease in officially recorded 
imports in the 1980s. However, even the thriving "parallel econ- 
omy" (or black market) did not meet industry's demands. The 
government continued the crackdown on smugglers, begun in 1984, 
and introduced reforms to decrease the time and capital expendi- 
ture required to obtain official import permits and letters of credit. 
Another major component of the government's mid-1980s liber- 
alization drive involved an attempt to attract Arab and other for- 
eign investment in Syria's tourism industry by offering a seven-year 
tax deferment and exemption from most foreign exchange and 
import restrictions. 


The Economy 

Foreign Trade 

Since the early 1950s, the value of imports has been close to dou- 
ble the value of exports. The two exhibited similar growth patterns, 
both growing slowly until the 1970s. Between 1951 and 1970, 
imports increased an average of 6.2 percent and exports 5.6 percent 
a year, and the trade balance slowly worsened. In the 1970s, the 
value of imports and exports increased much more rapidly. For 
example, the average rate of growth of imports increased 28 percent 
a year and that of exports 23 percent a year. In the 1980s, the trade 
imbalance widened further. Syria instituted austerity budgets to 
reduce imports drastically and to conserve foreign exchange. As 
a result, by the mid-1980s the trade deficit had declined from LSI 1 .6 
billion in 1981 to LS10.3 billion in 1983 and LS8.9 billion in 1984, 
still large but offering the hope of continued future reductions. 


Syria experienced considerable growth in imports in the 1970s, 
fueled by the increased flow of foreign aid, the investment and con- 
struction boom that followed the October 1973 War, and the oil- 
price rise stemming from Organization of Petroleum Exporting 
Countries (OPEC) policies of the mid-1970s. Machinery and equip- 
ment emerged as the most rapidly growing import segment (see 
table 11, Appendix). Increased construction necessitated more 
imported semiprocessed goods, such as cement, iron and steel rods, 
and other raw materials. Private consumption also increased, 
requiring ever greater imports of sugar, cereals, dairy products, 
foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, and other products. 

Public sector trading firms imported most of these commodities. 
In 1976 public sector enterprises accounted for 72 percent of total 
imports. In 1984 public sector enterprises retained the lion's share 
of imports, accounting for about 79 percent of the total, excluding 
military materiel. 

In the 1980s, the government implemented a policy to curb public 
and private sector imports. The policy was part of the general 
austerity pervading economic planning and a way of maintaining 
rapidly depleting foreign currency reserves. Because of the large 
volume of consumer goods and industrial inputs that entered Syria 
via the black market in the 1980s, official import statistics must 
be treated as rough indicators of actual import figures. Informed 
estimates placed the value of black market trade at about US$1 
billion in 1985. Officially recorded imports fell from LSI 9. 8 billion 
in 1981 to LS17.8 billion in 1983 and to LS16.2 billion in 1984. 
In February 1983, the government called for a partial suspension 


Syria: A Country Study 

of industrial imports to ease balance of payments problems. Offi- 
cially recorded private sector imports fell from LS2. 1 billion in 1983 
to LSI. 3 billion in 1984, reflecting industry's increased resort to 
the black market, the impact of government austerity programs, 
and long waiting periods for import permits and letters of credit. 
In 1986 the government reformed letter-of-credit regulations to ease 
bureaucratic delays for private sector imports (see Banking and 
Monetary Policy, this ch.). 

In the 1970s, Syria diversified its sources of imports. Western 
Europe became Syria's most important supplier, accounting for 
49 percent of total imports in 1975 and 56 percent in 1976. By the 
1980s, the direction of Syria's imports had changed drastically. 
Between 1980 and 1"984, the European Economic Community's 
(EEC) share of exports to Syria fell sharply, ranging between only 
25 to 32 percent of the total. Since 1982 Syria has experienced a 
tremendous increase in imports from Iran and Libya, largely in 
the form of oil shipments. The percentage of Syria's imports from 
Iran in 1983 was 26.1, but the figure fell to 22.7 percent in 1984 
as a result of decreased shipments of Iranian oil. Imports from Libya 
climbed from LS37.6 million in 1983 to LSI. 2 billion in 1984, or 
75 percent of Syria's total imports from Arab states that year. The 
Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), France, Italy, 
Japan, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and the 
Soviet Union were Syria's most important suppliers in 1984. Oil, 
machinery, transportation equipment, iron and steel, cereals, sugar, 
and produce were the main imports. 


Syria's growing exports of crude oil and the sharp rise of world 
oil prices in 1973-74 produced a steep increase in the value of exports 
in the 1970s. The value of petroleum exports rose from LSI 29 mil- 
lion in 1970 to LS2.7 billion in 1976; crude oil exports alone increased 
from LS291 million to LSI. 6 billion from 1973 to 1974. In the 1980s, 
however, Syria experienced a steep decline in the value of exports 
because of falling world oil prices and reduced oil exports. Syrian 
statistics claim that the value of oil exports shrank from LS6.5 bil- 
lion in 1980 to LS4.6 billion in 1984; other sources state that the 
drop was from LS5.2 billion to LS3.6 billion. Crude oil and oil 
products exported fell to 7.8 million tons in 1980, peaked at 8.1 mil- 
lion tons in 1982, and nosedived to 6.8 million tons in 1984. In 1980 
exports totaled LS8.3 billion and fell to LS7.4 billion in 1984. The 
overall index in the volume of exports fell from 100 to 95 in 1983. 

The value of cotton exports totaled LS310 million in 1970, LS664 
million in 1980, and over LSI billion in 1984, the record harvest 


The Economy 

year. The value of cotton exports in 1984 equaled 14.8 percent of 
Syria's total exports and 29.3 percent of nonpetroleum exports. 
In 1984 petroleum and cotton exports together accounted for 64 
percent of the country's total exports. In 1985 the figures for cot- 
ton exports fell by nearly 30 percent, and the price of cotton on 
the world market dropped from US$1,800 a ton in 1984 to about 
US$1,400 a ton in 1985. Major buyers in the 1980s included the 
Soviet Union, Algeria, Italy, and Spain. 

In addition to cotton and petroleum, Syria exported phosphates 
and small quantities of diverse goods. Phosphates generated LSI 06. 3 
million of export revenues in 1983. The Fifth Five- Year Plan envi- 
sioned an increase in phosphate production to 5 million tons by 1985, 
generating LS580 million in export earnings. Targets fell far short 
of the goal, but preliminary 1986 figures reflected a record increase 
in production (see Energy and Natural Resources, this ch.). Export 
of textiles, chemicals, glassware, and a variety of agricultural products 
also earned small amounts of foreign exchange. 

In the 1960s, Syria's major trading partners were East European 
states, but in the 1970s the direction of trade shifted to Western 
Europe, as the government pursued limited economic liberaliza- 
tion policies. In 1976 Western Europe (primarily the EEC) provided 
the main markets for Syrian exports, accounting for 57 percent. 
East European and Arab countries accounted for 25 and 1 1 percent 
of total exports, respectively. 

In the 1980s, Syria experienced another shift in the direction of 
trade. Exports to Western Europe had risen to 61 .6 percent by 1980 
but fell to 35.7 percent in 1984. In 1980 the East European share 
of Syrian exports totaled only 16.1 percent but rose to 43.8 percent 
in 1984, clearly indicating the return to those markets. However, 
in contrast to the 1960s, when East European states served as the 
main export market for Syrian goods on a cash basis, in the 1980s 
much of Syria's East European trade occurred as countertrade or 
barter deals as a result of Syria's severe shortage of foreign exchange. 
In 1985 Syria concluded barter deals with Czechoslovakia and 
Yugoslavia, exporting phosphates in exchange for engineering and 
construction equipment and industrial raw materials. 

To boost trade, Syria also signed important treaties of friend- 
ship and cooperation with East European states in the 1980s. Syria 
renewed its 1980 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the 
Soviet Union in 1985 and signed a similar agreement with Bul- 
garia in May 1985. In 1984 the most important export markets 
were Romania (LS2 billion), Italy (LSI. 4 billion), France (LS877 
million), the Soviet Union (LS838 million), Spain (LS240 million), 
Algeria (LS164 million), and Iran (LS164 million). 


Syria: A Country Study 

Balance of Payments 

In most of the years before 1970, remittances from Syrian work- 
ers in Lebanon and other places, tourism receipts, some grants, 
and pipeline transit fees usually covered a large part of the trade 
imbalance. Borrowing from foreign sources, primarily for large 
development projects, balanced the country's international pay- 
ments. In exceptional years, part of the country's modest interna- 
tional financial reserves were drawn down to meet emergencies and 
subsequently built up again. 

In the 1970s, the same pattern continued, but after 1976, Syria 
faced considerable balance of payments problems, including large 
trade deficits. The trade deficit was US$130 million in 1970, US$1 
billion in 1976, US$1.8 billion in 1980, and US$1.9 billion in 1984 
(see table 12, Appendix). By early 1977, foreign exchange reserves, 
down to about US$220 million, were sufficient to pay for about 
one month's worth of imports. Only grant aid, largely from Arab 
oil-producing states, totaling US$1.1 billion in 1977, averted an 
economic crisis. Although grant aid cushioned the economy, for- 
eign exchange reserves continued to dwindle. At the end of 1983, 
foreign exchange reserves totaled US$43 million, down from 
US$185 million in 1982. Estimates in 1984 placed Syria's foreign 
exchange reserves at about US$100 million. 

Decreased oil exports, increased oil imports, recession in the 
Persian Gulf states, declining worker remittances, and lower world 
prices for phosphate and cotton in the 1980s contributed to the 
state's shrinking foreign exchange reserves. Decreased agricultural 
production and Western aid transfers also adversely affected Syria's 
reserves. Total international reserves were valued at US$257 mil- 
lion in 1983, enough to cover about half a month's imports. 

In addition, balance of payments problems intensified because 
of increased defense spending and development expenditures. The 
June 1967 War, the October 1973 War, Syria's participation in 
the Arab Deterrent Force and subsequent involvement in Leba- 
non following the 1982 Israeli invasion, and President Assad's com- 
mitment to achieving strategic parity with Israel by expanding force 
levels and acquiring more sophisticated weapons systems, rapidly 
accelerated national security costs. In the budgets of the mid-1980s, 
defense spending represented more than 50 percent of current 
spending and 30 percent of total expenditure. Development 
expenditures also rose quickly after 1973, increasing from LS5.9 
billion in 1975 and LS14.3 billion in 1981 to LS19.4 billion in 1985. 

Syria had extremely limited opportunities to earn foreign 
exchange other than by exporting goods. Pipeline transit fees for 


The Economy 

crude oil, a primary service activity in the 1970s, largely ceased after 
1976. Although the government built new hotels and holiday villages 
with foreign companies, tourism did not generate sufficient foreign 
exchange in the mid-1980s to affect the foreign liquidity crisis. For 
example, tourism earned only LS451 million in 1984. Consequently, 
Syria turned to outside sources to offset the trade deficit, relying 
on foreign grant aid, worker remittances, and foreign lending from 
banks and development funds to ease balance of payments pressures. 

Syria received little foreign grant aid until after the June 1967 
War when Kuwait, Libya, and Saudi Arabia agreed to provide 
financial assistance to the confrontation states — Syria, Egypt, and 
Jordan. Except for 1967, the published amounts given Syria 
remained small until 1971, when they reached US$21 million. 
Grant aid for balance of payments amounted to US$364 million 
in 1973 and US$654 million in 1975. To purchase military equip- 
ment, Syria reportedly received large additional transfers not 
included in the statistics. Arab grant aid decreased in 1976 because 
of uncertainty over Syria's intentions in Lebanon, but it jumped 
sharply to US$1.1 billion in 1977. 

At the 1978 Baghdad summit conference, the Arab oil-producing 
states pledged US$1 .8 billion a year in financial support to Syria. 
However, most observers agreed that actual cash transfers 
amounted to far less than official allocation levels. Syria's political 
relations with Middle East neighbors and the mid-1980s economic 
downturn in the Persian Gulf states tended to determine the flow 
of Arab aid. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Develop- 
ment (OECD) figures valued OPEC aid to Syria at US$1 .4 billion 
in 1981, dropping to US$799.7 million in 1983. The highest esti- 
mates for 1983 placed Arab aid to Syria at US$1 .2 billion, but most 
observers considered US$1 billion a more accurate figure. Only 
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the wealthiest Arab oil-producing states, 
provided regular aid installments as stipulated under the Baghdad 
summit agreement. In 1983 Saudi Arabia contributed roughly 
US$800 million and Kuwait provided US$200 million in aid. By 
1985 Syria had suffered a marked decrease in financial support from 
the Arab states, reportedly receiving only US$700 million in 
Baghdad summit money that year. To protest Syrian support of 
Iran in the Iran-Iraq War and Syrian policies in Lebanon, the 
Kuwaiti parliament voted to suspend its annual contribution, but 
the amir moved quickly to restore aid levels. In 1986 Saudi Arabia 
reportedly gave Syria US$700 million, including a US$176 million 
cash grant in July, as part of its Baghdad summit commitments. 
Official grant aid cited in Syria's balance of payments peaked in 
1981 at US$1.8 billion and declined to US$1.2 billion by 1984. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Apart from "official" Baghdad summit aid, Syria received 
additional support from Arab states. Unconfirmed reports revealed 
that Libya paid about US$1 billion to the Soviet Union in 1979-80 
to cover Syria's mounting military debt. In the aftermath of the 
Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, reports also suggested a major 
transfer of funds, perhaps up to US$2 billion, from Saudi Arabia 
to Syria for immediate arms resupply. Since 1982 Iran has chan- 
neled aid to Syria (including oil), valued at its peak in the 1983-84 
period at US$1 billion. 

The government also relied partially on workers' remittances 
to alleviate balance of payments pressures. Officially recorded remit- 
tances peaked at US$901 million in 1979. However, by 1983 the 
propensity of workers to invest remittances outside Syria because 
of worsening economic conditions decreased their impact on the 
balance of payments. As the economic downturn in the Persian 
Gulf states became more pronounced in 1984 and 1985, remittances 
dropped further— from US$327 million in 1984 to US$300 mil- 
lion in 1985. Economists expected the downward trend to continue 
as long as world oil prices remained at their low 1986 levels. 

In the 1970s, Syria increasingly turned to private and govern- 
ment financial institutions to finance part of its economic develop- 
ment. Before 1973, drawing rights on available credits were only 
slightly higher than repayments of earlier loans. Since 1972 govern- 
ment drawings on long-term loans have increased, reaching US$340 
million in 1976. This rapid rise of available credits (excluding mili- 
tary) was even more striking, amounting to US$340 million in 1970, 
US$650 million in 1973, and US$2.8 billion at the beginning of 
1977. Into the 1980s, other governments continued to provide the 
bulk of the credits, supplemented by loans from World Bank 
organizations and international development funds. Syria's stature 
as a borrower in international commercial credit circles remained 
weak in the 1980s. 

The increase of the external public debt (over one year and 
excluding military loans) also occurred rapidly but was slower than 
available credits because of Syria's deficiencies in implementing 
projects. The external public debt amounted to US$232 million in 
1970, US$411 million in 1973, US$1 .2 billion in 1977, and US$2.5 
billion at the end of 1984. Debt service costs barely exceeded US$100 
million in 1975 but tripled by 1984, representing 13 percent of the 
exports of goods and services. Syrian officials appeared relatively 
prudent in the use of foreign loans, cutting back plans rather than 
going deeply in debt. The debt service ratio stood at 11.2 percent 
in 1983, a relatively low rate as a result of Syria's reliance on grant 
aid and workers' remittances to finance the trade deficit. 


The Economy 

National and international economic development funds, the 
World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and agencies affiliated 
with the United Nations (UN) conducted and financed aid pro- 
grams. World Bank loan commitments increased substantially in 
the 1970s, exceeding US$250 million in 1978. World Bank mis- 
sions to Syria occurred more frequently through the mid-1980s, 
and project loans continued to rise. The World Bank joined other 
international lenders, including the Arab Fund for Economic and 
Social Development, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic 
Development, the Saudi Fund for Development, and other Arab 
development funds, to finance projects in electric power, rural elec- 
trification, highway construction, telecommunications, irrigation, 
education, livestock, water resources, and other areas. 

Since the late 1950s, East European states have provided sub- 
stantial economic development loans to Syria. In the 1960s, Soviet 
technical and financial assistance was instrumental in construct- 
ing the Euphrates Dam, including the hydroelectric power station. 
The Soviet Union provided a US$185 million loan at concessional 
rates to finance the dam, Syria's largest development project of 
the decade. After completion, the Soviets and several East Euro- 
pean countries helped construct parts of the dam's irrigation and 
drainage facilities. 

In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, 
and Romania continued to be particularly active in developing 
Syria's infrastructure. For example, Czechoslovakia played a major 
role in developing Syria's crude oil and refinery facilities. In 1986 
Technoexport completed work on a ninety-two kilometer spur link- 
ing Syria's new oil field at Dayr az Zawr with the old Iraqi-Syrian 
pipeline. Further, Syrian refinery workers underwent training in 
Romania. The Soviet Union continued to lend assistance for power 
plant projects, including the US$97-million Tishrin plant, a joint 
venture undertaken by the Soviet Union's Technopromexport and 
Syria's Milihouse. Throughout the 1980s, economic and techni- 
cal cooperation agreements with the Soviet Union and East Euro- 
pean states generated new aid commitments, but in 1987 the exact 
amounts remained unknown. Total Syrian indebtedness to East 
European states (including military assistance) was estimated at 
about US$12 billion to US$13 billion in the mid-1980s. In 1984 
there were over 5,000 Soviet and East European technicians work- 
ing in Syria, in addition to over 2,000 military advisers. 

Beginning in the 1970s, Syria also received considerable amounts 
of aid from Western Europe and the United States. Members of 
the EEC agreed to provide nearly US$70 million to finance Syrian 
development projects. Individual states, including West Germany 


Syria: A Country Study 

and France, also provided bilateral aid, but in 1979-80, as rela- 
tions deteriorated, West Germany stopped all funding for Syrian 
development projects. In 1985 West Germany decided to restore 
project funding but withdrew all development assistance to pro- 
test Syria's alleged role in the 1986 bombing of the German- Arab 
Friendship Society Office in West Berlin. In 1986 the West Euro- 
pean countries and Britain endorsed a series of economic sanctions 
to demonstrate their disapproval of Syria's alleged role in terrorist 
operations (see Sponsorship of Terrorism, ch. 5). 

Between 1945 and the end of 1976, the United States channeled 
US$103 million in economic aid to Syria. In the years shortly after 
independence, the United States provided nearly half of this aid, 
primarily in the form of grants. After Syria and the United States 
resumed diplomatic relations in 1974, United States project aid 
to Syria increased dramatically. In 1981, however, the United States 
Congress froze about 60 percent of a US$227.8 million allocation 
of development aid, bringing United States Agency for International 
Development financed water, electricity, highway, and other 
infrastructure projects to a halt. All United States government eco- 
nomic assistance to Syria was canceled in 1983, and in 1986 the 
United States adopted diplomatic and economic sanctions in sup- 
port of those of its West European allies against Syria. 

Banking and Monetary Policy 

When first issued in 1920, the Syrian pound was linked to the 
French franc. At independence French- and British-owned banks 
dominated banking activity. The largest bank, the French-owned 
Bank of Syria and Lebanon, became the bank of currency issue 
and assumed other central bank functions, in addition to its com- 
mercial operations. In 1947 Syria joined the IMF and established 
a par value of LS2.19 equivalent to US$1. In 1949 Syria broke 
the link to the franc. 

The primary legislation establishing a central bank and control 
of the banking system was passed in 1953, but the Central Bank 
was not formed until 1956. Its functions included issuing notes, 
controlling the money supply, acting as fiscal agent for the govern- 
ment, and controlling credit and commercial banks. It was also 
to act as the country's development bank until specialized banks 
were established for various sectors. The Central Bank had con- 
siderable discretionary powers over the banking system but was 
itself responsible to and under the control of the Council on Money 
and Credit, a policy group of high-ranking officials. 

The banking system has exhibited resilience in the wake 
of widespread political change since independence. Before 


The Economy 

independence, Syria was the junior partner in terms of banking 
facilities in a customs union with Lebanon. Dissolution of that rela- 
tionship in 1950 stimulated the establishment of foreign banks, 
especially Arab, and expansion of some already operating there. 
After the 1956 Suez War, French and British banking interests were 
sequestered as enemy assets. In 1958 and after the union with Egypt, 
the state began to Arabize the commercial banking system and in 
1961 implemented a policy of limited nationalization. 

In 1966 the state achieved complete ownership of commercial 
banking by merging all existing commercial banks into the single 
consolidated Commercial Bank of Syria. In addition, the govern- 
ment created specialized banks to promote economic development. 
It extended the charter of the Agricultural Cooperative Bank from 
the preindependence period and established the Industrial Bank 
in 1959, the Real Estate Bank in April 1966, and the Popular Credit 
Bank in July 1966. 

In 1986 the banking system consisted of those five banks in 
addition to the Central Bank. Legislation in 1966 largely limited 
each bank's lending to the sector in its title. All five banks could 
extend short- to long-term credit and accept deposits. The Com- 
mercial Bank of Syria was by far the largest and most active. 

The total assets of the specialized banks reached LS44.9 billion 
at the end of 1984, and total deposits amounted to LS28 billion. 
The Commercial Bank of Syria, the largest of the five specialized 
banks, had assets of LS33.7 billion in over 40 branches in 1984. 
Deposits totaled LS19.3 billion in 1985. The specialized banks 
extended credits of LS26.1 billion in 1984. Banking authorities 
allocated credit primarily to commerce (51 percent), industry 
(27 percent), and construction (15 percent). The public sector 
received 75 percent of the credit. 

The Council on Money and Credit established monetary policy 
and supervised banking, subject to review by a ministerial com- 
mittee responsible for the whole economy. The general philosophy 
was that the banking system should be an agent of government 
economic policy. Direct controls were used more often than indirect 
ones; credit, for example, was regulated by setting limits for each 
sector and each bank. 

Although the money supply increased rapidly, it consisted 
primarily of money in circulation. In the 1960s, demand deposits 
generally were less than one-third of the money supply and, by 
the late 1960s, about one-fifth. Banking activity increased in the 
1970s, and currency in circulation slowly decreased from 77 per- 
cent of the money supply in 1970 to 61 percent in 1980 and 
56 percent in 1984. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Bank accounts were predominantly demand deposits; use of time 
and savings accounts grew slowly. For example, in 1984 time and 
savings deposits were only 40 percent the size of demand deposits. 

In fact, banking played a rather limited role in the economy. 
There were several possible reasons for the limited use of banks, 
including distrust of or unfamiliarity with banks, low incomes and 
limited savings, low interest on savings accounts, lack of more con- 
venient branches, and especially the increased resort to the black 
market for currency transactions and imported goods in the 

Bank lending was mainly for short-term commercial transactions. 
Bank financing of trade was 53 percent of total lending in 1964, 
67 percent in 1970, 79 percent in 1976, 46 percent in 1980, and 
50 percent in 1984. The value of loans to the commercial sector 
nearly tripled from 1975 to 1984. Loans to other sectors of the econ- 
omy, especially to industry and construction, diverted bank lend- 
ing from commerce in the late 1970s. The value of loans to the 
industrial sector increased more than twentyfold from 1975 to 1984, 
to become 27 percent of total lending. The value of construction 
loans grew seventeenfold, and agricultural loans tripled. 

The sources of bank funds, largely borrowing from the Central 
Bank and demand deposits, contributed to the short-term nature 
of most lending. In general, the banks were undercapitalized. In 
the 1970s and 1980s, more medium-term loans and a few long- 
term loans (in agriculture and housing) were made. Long-term loans 
constituted 15 percent of agricultural loans and 71 percent of hous- 
ing loans. 

Short-term commercial credits, however, increased faster. The 
Industrial Bank appeared to invest equity capital in both public 
and private plants instead of making long-term loans. Public sec- 
tor enterprises received most bank lending, but the percentage fell 
from 84 percent in 1976 to 75 percent in 1984. 

Monetary expansion in the 1960s largely resulted from financ- 
ing government budget deficits. The growth of the economy, 
extension of the use of money, and government price controls 
^minimized the impact of deficit financing on prices. Monetary 
expansion accelerated in the 1970s, particularly after 1972. The 
large inflows of foreign funds, plus the sharp increase in Syria's 
own oil revenues, facilitated rapid growth of government expen- 
ditures while building up government deposits with the banking 
system. A high rate of credit expansion, primarily to public sector 
enterprises, followed, and private sector borrowing also increased 
substantially. After 1976 the expansion of the money supply con- 
tinued in tandem with the need to finance chronic budget deficits. 


The Economy 

The money supply grew 21.3 percent during the 1970s and 
22.8 percent a year during the early 1980s, a rate much higher than 
the growth of GDP. 

Monetary expansion, along with shortages of goods and labor, 
caused a period of high inflation. Inflation was also fueled by steep 
rises in world prices of imported commodities. The wholesale price 
index increased an average of 18.2 percent a year between 1972 
and 1976; from 1977 to 1984, wholesale prices more than doubled. 
This period was Syria's miniboom — a smaller version of the high 
level of investment and construction activity, rapidly rising prices, 
shortages of goods and labor, and overtaxed storage and transpor- 
tation facilities that characterized the nearby Arab and Iranian oil 

In addition to setting a great number of prices directly, the 
government controlled many more. Limited markups (generally 
between 5 and 10 percent) were applied to a wide range of com- 
modities produced or imported by the private sector. Essential com- 
modities were supplied at low, subsidized prices. When the price 
discrepancy of an item became too great, encouraging smuggling, 
the government rationed the amount that could be bought at sub- 
sidized prices. Rationed commodities included rice, sugar, and cot- 
tonseed oil. A person wanting more than the ration could buy as 
much as he wanted at the much higher open-market price. 

The government's rationing policy directly contributed to black 
market growth in the early 1970s. The black market flourished dur- 
ing Syria's miniboom of the mid-1970s and substantially increased 
as the Syrian presence in Lebanon facilitated the transfer of con- 
sumer goods, raw materials, and industrial spare parts across the 
border. Frustrated by bureaucratic delays in obtaining import per- 
mits and letters of credit, the private sector increasingly turned to 
the underground economy to acquire essential imports. The pub- 
lic sector, also suffering from strict government control over imports 
and from shortages of foreign exchange, resorted to similar means 
to import spare parts for state-run factories. Observers estimated 
black-market trade at about US$1 billion per year in the mid-1980s, 
almost one-quarter the size of officially recorded imports. 

The black market in foreign exchange also played a more active 
role in the economy, as Syrians working abroad sought higher 
exchange rates for their currency. In mid- 1986 Syrian pounds 
traded for about thirty to the United States dollar in contrast to 
the official exchange rate LS3.92 to the United States dollar. 

Government responses to increased resort to the black market 
for imported goods and currency exchange varied. In 1984 and 
1985, as part of its efforts to alleviate the foreign exchange crisis, 


Syria: A Country Study 

the state launched a campaign against black-market money chang- 
ing and currency smuggling. Syria decreed heavy sentences for 
black marketing, including up to twenty-five years' imprisonment 
for currency smuggling and one- to five-year sentences for Syri- 
ans who failed to repatriate funds earned overseas from business 
inside Syria. Widespread but brief arrests of money changers 
signaled the government's intention to limit the black market, rather 
than eradicate it; in the late 1980s, the official economy still 
remained heavily dependent on underground transactions for 
foreign exchange. In addition, the government issued new regu- 
lations severely limiting the amount of foreign exchange allowed 
out of the country and requiring tourists to change US$100 upon 

In 1986 the Commercial Bank of Syria issued a new regulation 
to facilitate private sector imports through official channels and 
reduce black market activity. The regulation permitted any importer 
with an official import license and source of foreign currency to 
pay the Commercial Bank of Syria 105 percent of the total amount 
required in the letter of credit and receive a letter of credit immedi- 
ately. The regulation was designed to reduce the waiting period 
for letters of credit, which had reached up to two years for some 
private sector firms in the mid-1980s. However, private business- 
men initially reacted cautiously to the reform measure, fearing retri- 
bution from state tax collectors or the police by admitting they held 
large amounts of foreign currency outside the system. 

In the 1980s, the government also revised exchange rates in an 
attempt to attract workers' remittances to official channels, make 
government rates more competitive with the black market, and stop 
the depreciation of the Syrian pound. In 1981 Syria reverted to a 
multitier exchange rate, in which the government established a 
"parallel" rate for private sector imports that floated against major 
international currencies. In 1986 the parallel rate was LS5.40 to 
US$1. The official rate of LS3.92 to US$1 remained in use for 
public sector imports. In 1982 the government established a tourist 
rate for Syrians working abroad; this rate was LS9.75 to US$1 in 
1986. By 1986 many commercial activities were calculated at the 
tourist rate to encourage a return to official banking channels. In 
addition, government regulations instituted in 1984 permitted Syri- 
ans working abroad and foreigners doing business in Syria to main- 
tain hard currency accounts of up to 75 percent of the value of 
agricultural and industrial imports. After September 1985, the 
government permitted resident Syrians to open hard currency, 
interest-bearing accounts at the Commercial Bank of Syria specifi- 
cally to finance imports. 


The Economy 

Transportation, Telecommunications, and Construction 

Since antiquity, Syria has served as a major crossroads for 
international trade. Syrian merchants traditionally have prospered 
from the east-west and north-south movement of goods and peo- 
ple. In the early twentieth century, Syrian transportation links con- 
tinued to be more provincial than national. The boundaries 
preceding independence further fragmented the country's trans- 
portation system. Splitting off Lebanon from Greater Syria (see 
Glossary) deprived the country of its main port, Beirut, and placed 
part of the rail network connecting Syria's main cities in Leba- 
non. The French cession of Syria's northwest corner to Turkey 
before World War II took away the country's other port, Iskende- 
run (formerly known as Alexandretta), and important rail and road 
segments. At independence the country lacked a port; adequate 
links between the main cities of Damascus, Horns, and Aleppo; 
and transportation arteries to the important northeast agricul- 
tural area and the fertile coastal plain. Moreover, the traditional 
east-west and north-south transit trade had diminished consider- 

After independence the state began a major effort to develop a 
national transportation system of roads, railroads, and (later) pipe- 
lines. Three ports (Tartus, Latakia, and Baniyas) served domestic 
and transit trade. Two international airports (Damascus and 
Aleppo) and several secondary airports provided international and 
internal connections for freight and passengers. By the mid-1970s, 
the main population and economic areas were connected by the 
various forms of transportation (see fig. 12). 

In 1986 about one-half of the roads, one-half of the railroads, 
and two-fifths of port capacity had been added during the previ- 
ous sixteen years. However, the transportation system remained 
overtaxed as a result of the country's development boom and the 
increase of transit goods destined for the Persian Gulf states. Under 
the Fourth Five-Year Plan, a high level of investment in transpor- 
tation infrastructure was planned to remove constraints on eco- 
nomic development caused by inadequate transportation. 

In the mid-1980s, over 95 percent of freight and passenger traffic 
moved by truck or bus on the highways. The main arteries were 
north-south between the Turkish and Jordanian borders (but 
primarily between the major west-central cities of Damascus, Horns, 
Hamah, and Aleppo) and north-south along the coastal plain; east- 
west traffic also was heavy between the main west-central cities and 
towns and the port cities of the coast. Important corridors, although 
less heavily used, extended from Damascus eastward to the border 


Syria: A Country Study 

Figure 12. Transportation System 


The Economy 


International boundary 
National capital 
Major highway 
Paved road 
Gravel road 

H 1 H Standard-gauge railroad 

J 1 *- Narrow-gauge railroad 

Major airfield 
$ Port 

25 50 75 KILOMETERS 
' r— I J— i . 


A Country Study 

(the primary road to Baghdad), from Horns eastward to Tadmur 
for the export of phosphates via the port of Tartus, and from Aleppo 
eastward to the important northeast economic area and continu- 
ing to Baghdad. 

Major road improvements began in the late 1960s. The paved 
highway network had approximately tripled by 1985, reaching 
18,000 kilometers or, about 72 percent of the highway system. The 
state spent LS598 million on road construction in 1984. From 1980 
to 1984, major roads grew from 4,527 kilometers to 5,230 kilo- 

About 99 percent of the paved roads were two-lane, inadequate 
for the north-south traffic between the major cities, towns, and 
coastal ports. By the late 1970s, overuse of particular arteries caused 
congestion, maintenance problems, and shortened life span of 
trucks. In the mid-1980s, the government studied a number of plans 
to ease congestion in the capital; plans included construction of 
a southern ring road, a ring road along the city wall, and more 
bridges. The state also continued plans to upgrade four-lane high- 
ways in some heavily populated western portions of the country 
and to complete a new 104-kilometer highway to the Jordanian 
border by 1988. The 1980s also witnessed an expansion of the rural 
road network, which grew from 16,290 kilometers in 1980 to 21,796 
kilometers in 1984. 

After independence the country developed three major ports. 
By 1984 the port of Tartus, opened in 1965, was the most impor- 
tant, handling 8.8 million tons of cargo. Tartus handled general- 
cargo imports, phosphate exports (857,000 tons in 1984), and large 
crude-oil exports. Tartus also handled 8,000 passengers. The port 
of Latakia handled general cargo (1.7 million tons in 1984), includ- 
ing 147,000 tons of cotton exports. The government planned to 
increase the capacity of Latakia to 3.5 million tons a year in the 
late 1980s. Both of these general-cargo ports experienced conges- 
tion and unloading delays in the mid-1970s because of the rapid 
increase (up to 50 percent between 1974 and 1976) of seaborne 
cargo destined for Syria and transit trade to Persian Gulf coun- 
tries. Closing of the port of Beirut in 1976 as a result of the Lebanese 
Civil War temporarily diverted additional transit cargo to Syrian 
ports. In the late 1970s, Syrian port congestion diminished, and 
waiting time in the 1980s was minimal. 

Syria's other port was located at Baniyas, the terminal for the 
crude-oil pipeline from Iraq. In 1975 crude exports from Baniyas 
totaled about 27 million tons, but when export of Iraqi crude ceased 
in 1982, activity in Baniyas dropped off considerably. Completion 
of the 6-million-ton-capacity oil refinery at Baniyas in 1978 


The Economy 

maintained some activity at the oil port. In 1984 Baniyas exported 
1,520 tons of petroleum. 

At independence the country inherited two separate railroads. 
The narrow-gauge (1 .05 meters) Hijaz Railway served Damascus 
and the southwest, with connections to Lebanon and Jordan. In 
1984 it had 327 kilometers of track. The standard- gauge (1.4 meters) 
Northern Railway had 757 kilometers of track from the port of 
Latakia to the northeast corner of the country and Iraq via Aleppo, 
Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, and Al Hasakah. The link between 
Latakia and the northeast was completed in the mid-1970s, and 
it resulted in a substantial rise in freight, primarily shipments of 
cotton, wheat, and barley. 

By the late 1970s, the railroads required considerable rehabili- 
tation in order to make an important contribution to the economy. 
Transportation policy needed attention and equipment needed up- 
grading. The government had long-term plans to add equipment 
and trackage, link the two systems, and make the railroads much 
more important carriers of passengers and traffic. In 1978 work 
began on lines linking the phosphate mines near Tadmur to Tartus. 
In 1981 the Soviet Union provided Syria with US$49.5 million in 
development aid, including funding for the 150-kilometer railroad 
from Dayr az Zawr to Abu Kamal and an 80-kilometer line between 
Tartus and Latakia, with a 10-kilometer spur to the Tartus cement 
plant. The 209-kilometer line from Damascus to Horns opened for 
freight in 1983. The opening of the Horns to Tadmur and Horns 
to Tartus routes, coupled with other expansions of the railroad net- 
work, connected Syria's main towns and industrial centers in the 
mid-1980s. By .1984 total standard extended gauge track stood at 
1,686 kilometers. 

Syria's civil aviation sector experienced considerable growth in 
the 1980s. Syrian Arab Airlines (SAA), the state-owned carrier 
established in 1961 as a successor to Syrian Airways, provided domes- 
tic service from Damascus to Aleppo, Latakia, Al Qamishli, and 
Dayr az Zawr. SAA's service included thirty-three overseas routes 
to major Middle Eastern, European, and South Asian capitals. In 
1986 the airline added biweekly flights to Tehran and Riyadh. The 
airline had a total of twenty-three major transport aircraft. 

The General Directorate of Civil Aviation reported a steady 
increase in the number of arrivals and departures at Damascus 
International Airport, Syria's major air terminal in the 1980s. The 
number of passengers rose from 1.3 million in 1983 to 1.5 million 
in 1984 and 1985, an increase of approximately 16 percent. About 
95 percent of Syrian air traffic went via Damascus; about 3.3 per- 
cent went via the Aleppo airport. In 1985 the number of airplanes 


Syria: A Country Study 

arriving at Damascus International Airport totaled 10,997; an 
additional 607 arrived at Aleppo and 539 at Dayr az Zawr. In 1985 
freight unloaded at Damascus International Airport totaled 2.8 mil- 
lion tons; freight loaded amounted to 2.2 million tons. 

Not until the 1980s did the country's telecommunications facili- 
ties experience significant growth. The ratio of telephones to peo- 
ple remained extremely low throughout the 1960s and 1970s, 
numbering 13.5 telephones per 1,000 people in 1963 and 17.5 tele- 
phones per 1,000 people in 1970. In 1979 Syria embarked upon 
a major expansion of the country's telecommunications infrastruc- 
ture. The Public Telecommunications Establishment, Syria's state- 
owned agency responsible for overseeing and developing the 
country's telecommunications, signed a major contract with a 
Japanese firm to install two 40,000-line electronic switching sys- 
tems in Damascus and Aleppo, a project that placed Syria's local 
telephone exchanges among the largest in the world. By autumn 
1983, Syria possessed an improved network of microwave links and 
digital systems. In 1983 the number of telephones per 1,000 peo- 
ple increased to 43, and by 1985 the country had 512,600 tele- 
phones, an increase to 53 telephones per 1,000 inhabitants. Dimashq 
Province accounted for about 40 percent of the country's telephones, 
followed by Halab Province with 15 percent, and then by Hims, 
Hamah, and Al Ladhaqiyah provinces. 

In the late 1980s, Syria's international links depended on its par- 
ticipation in the International Telecommunications Satellite Organi- 
zation (INTELSAT), a coaxial cable to Crete, and radio relay to 
neighboring countries. Furthermore, plans to link Syria with the 
Soviet-sponsored Intersputnik network and the regional Arab Satel- 
lite Organization (ARABSAT) system would significantly contrib- 
ute to Syria's telecommunications capabilities, as would the new 
telecommunications network slated to link Damascus, Ash Shaykh 
Miskin, and Dar'a in Syria with towns in Jordan and Saudi Arabia 
in the 1990s. 

Radiobroadcast transmissions were made from six AM stations 
for domestic service and from a high-frequency station located at 
Sabburah for international service. Television was broadcast from 
13 transmitters, including a 350-kilowatt transmitter that broad- 
cast into Israel, and 27 low-power relay stations. 

In the mid-1970s, construction became a major growth sector 
of the economy and, because it is labor intensive, an important 
employer, particularly of unskilled labor. The construction indus- 
try helped absorb the large flow of agricultural workers who moved 
to urban areas seeking a better living. Construction expanded an 


A portion of the Beirut-Damascus highway 
Courtesy Murhaf Jouejati 

average of 8.2 percent a year (in constant prices) between 1953 
and 1976, but there were great variations in growth. From 1977 
to 1984, construction expanded a total of 160 percent. The sector 
expanded in terms of value added (at constant prices) by nearly 
20 percent a year between 1970 and 1976. Between 1978 and 1984 
the sector expanded 7.5 percent a year in terms of value added 
at constant prices. 

Housing construction had fallen considerably behind the needs 
of the population in the mid-1970s. From 1975 to 1978, the num- 
ber of residential building licenses issued by the government grew 
from 12,388 to 22,626, but in 1984 the state issued only 14,666 
new residential building licenses — a signal that the mid-1970s con- 
struction boom was winding down. The high rate of population 
increase, the rural to urban migration, and the desire of Syrians 
to invest in secure areas like housing put severe pressures on housing 
and services such as water, sewerage, electricity, and telephones 
in most cities and towns. Figures to measure the housing short- 
ages were lacking in 1987, but soaring real estate prices in the major 
cities in the 1980s confirmed the shortage. Young couples and those 
with limited incomes experienced particular difficulties as a result 
of sharply rising land and construction costs that priced moderate 
wage earners out of the market. By 1986 government efforts to curb 


Syria: A Country Study 

urban land speculation and to ease the supply of building material 
had only limited success. The average price of ordinary apartments 
in Damascus topped LSI million in the mid-1980s, and there was 
little hope for relief. 

Period of Economic Retrenchment, 1986-90 

In 1987 Syria's economy had a well-developed agricultural and 
industrial base, unlike some of its Arab neighbors that depended 
almost exclusively on oil. Although agriculture remained nearly 
as dependent on rainfall as at independence, the government's 
renewed commitment to agricultural development, expansion and 
extension of irrigation systems throughout the country, and appli- 
cation of new cultivation technologies provided incentives to stimu- 
late agricultural output. Industry, too, had expanded considerably 
in terms of value, both in the range of products and in their sophisti- 
cation. During the Assad years, Syria's infrastructure grew rapidly, 
as the state channeled resources into the building of new electric, 
water, telecommunications, and other development projects. 

Nevertheless, in the late 1980s, the Syrian economy faced a num- 
ber of serious difficulties. The collapse of world oil prices, weak 
markets for Syrian exports, large trade deficits, foreign exchange 
shortages, declining workers' remittances, unreliable sources and 
amounts of donor aid from the Persian Gulf states and Iran, rapid 
depreciation of the Syrian pound, and massive defense expendi- 
tures forced Syria into a period of economic retrenchment. A mood 
of austerity pervaded the economy as the state struggled to adjust 
to lower rates of economic growth. 

The Syrian economy faced a long and difficult road to recovery 
despite the government's adoption of measures designed to fore- 
stall an economic crisis by sharply reducing imports, cutting spend- 
ing, stabilizing local currency and foreign exchange markets, 
encouraging the private sector by introducing more market-oriented 
mechanisms into the economy, and limiting black market activity. 
Observers agreed that in the 1990s, economic recovery would 
depend in part upon the state's ability to initiate and implement 
major economic reform programs, improve public sector manage- 
ment, and overcome bureaucratic inertia and corruption. Con- 
tinued internal stability and external elements, such as the outbreak 
of an Arab-Israeli war or a severe world depression, would also 
affect Syria's prospects for economic recovery. However, through 
the end of the 1980s, only the discovery of sizable quantities of high- 
grade oil at Dayr az Zawr — by generating much-needed foreign 


The Economy 

exchange and reducing expenditures for oil imports in the balance 
of payments — offered the possibility of economic relief. 

The Syrian government publishes a variety of statistics; the one 
most frequently available in the United States and adequate for 
most purposes is the annual Statistical Abstract, published by the Cen- 
tral Bureau of Statistics. The Quarterly Bulletin, published by the Cen- 
tral Bank of Syria, and Syrie et Monde Arabe, published by Office 
Arabe de Presse et de Documentation in Damascus, contain use- 
ful information. International Monetary Fund publications, such 
as the International Financial Statistics and the Balance of Payments Year- 
book, usually include considerable statistics for Syria. The UN and 
affiliated agencies issue a variety of publications that include statis- 
tics for Syria. The World Bank's annual World Development Report 
also contains useful statistics. The United States government pub- 
lishes a number of reports containing information about the Syrian 
economy. Most useful are the Department of Commerce's Foreign 
Economic Trends series on Syria and the Department of Agriculture's 
Middle East and North Africa Situation and Outlook Report. Several broad 
surveys, such as The Middle East and North Africa and the Middle East 
Annual Review, cover Syria's economic development. Middle East 
Economic Digest and the Economist Intelligence Unit's Quarterly Eco- 
nomic Review of Syria provide detailed descriptions of key economic 
events. Much of the information on aspects of Syria's economy 
is in small, fragmented bits published in a variety of forms. (For 
further information and more complete citations, see Bibliography.) 






Chapter 4. Government and Politics 

Assyrian court officials from wall painting, 
c.a. 750 B.C., Tall Hariri 

IN EARLY 1987, President Hafiz al Assad, in power since his 
November 1970 takeover in a bloodless military coup d'etat, con- 
tinued to lead Syria. His regime appeared to be resilient, if not 
altogether stable. Only a few years earlier, the regime had encoun- 
tered several major threats. In 1982 the government of Syria 
endured nearly simultaneous major domestic and external 
challenges: the uprising of Muslim fundamentalist rebels and the 
Israeli attack on Syrian forces in Lebanon. Then, in late 1983 and 
early 1984, Assad became seriously ill, leading to splits within the 
regime as factions maneuvered to succeed him. These machina- 
tions proved to be premature, however, because Assad subsequently 
recovered and reasserted his power. Nonetheless, the domestic 
political infighting and external military clashes that occurred while 
Assad was incapacitated reminded Syrians of their nation's chronic 
instability of the 1950s and 1960s and foreshadowed the return of 
such instability after Assad. The crises also reinforced the percep- 
tion that the strength of the Syrian government was not only vested 
in the president but derived from him personally. Consequently, 
although Assad had transformed Syria into a regional power in the 
Levant and had created domestic stability, his accomplishments 
could prove ephemeral because they were not buttressed by legiti- 
mate and viable institutions. Even more unsettling, in 1987 the 
question of a successor to President Assad was still unresolved. 

Since 1970 Assad's pragmatism, ambition, and patience have 
helped transform Syria into a regional power. Syrian development 
has been motivated and hastened by the threat posed by Israel. 
In fact, in 1984 Assad announced Syria's determination to attain 
"strategic parity" with Israel and further stated that Syria would 
strive to match Israel's level of modernization across the wide spec- 
trum of "political, demographic, social, educational, economic, 
and military aspects of life." 

However, Syria's status as a regional power imposed costs and 
liabilities. For instance, in 1987 Syria was relatively isolated in the 
Arab world, primarily because of its maverick support for Iran in 
the Iran-Iraq War and its involvement in Lebanon. Also, its econ- 
omy staggered under the weight of its military budget, and it 
depended heavily on the Soviet Union for military equipment. 

Despite the outward appearance of radicalism and dogmatic 
rigidity, Syrian diplomacy was conducted on the basis of hardheaded 
and pragmatic calculation of perceived costs and benefits to the 


Syria: A Country Study 

national interest. Its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, once 
believed to be immutably rigid, changed not only in style but in 
substance. In the years after the October 1973 War, Syria modi- 
fied its categorical refusal to negotiate directly with Israel. After 
1973 it indicated its intention to negotiate, in return for Israel's 
withdrawal from all occupied territories and for a form of Pales- 
tinian self-determination. 

The political effectiveness of Assad's leadership depended heavily 
on firm control of the pervasive military and internal security and 
intelligence apparatus — the only countercoup forces available to 
an incumbent regime. The officially sanctioned Baath (Arab 
Socialist Resurrection) Party, also played an increasingly impor- 
tant role in maintaining the regime. 

Syria was a socialist state under the political influence of the Baath 
Party, which provided ideological legitimation and continuity to 
Assad's rule. However, Assad's implementation of Baath Party doc- 
trines has been more pragmatic than ideological. To broaden the 
government's base, in 1972 Assad incorporated non-Baathist par- 
ties into the National Progressive Front. Although the front theo- 
retically ruled Syria, the Baath Party remained the real power. 

The authorities closely monitored political activities and dealt 
sternly with expressions of organized dissent or opposition — a source 
of grievance for the nation's intellectuals, students, some conser- 
vative Sunni religious leaders, and labor groups. Absence of open 
political channels other than through the Baathist-controlled frame- 
work made estimating the extent of popular support for Assad's 
regime difficult. Clearly, sectarian tensions persisted because the 
centers of power in 1987 remained in Alawi hands, whereas the 
majority of the population were Sunni Muslims who had tradition- 
ally held power until the Assad regime was installed in 1970. 

In 1987 Syrian popular opinion was split between those who sup- 
ported and those who opposed President Assad's regime. However, 
those who opposed the regime did so vehemently, while those who 
supported Assad appeared ambivalent. The charismatic Assad con- 
tinued to enjoy considerable personal popularity among the latter 
group, but its approval did not extend to his regime as a whole. 
Even many of Assad's supporters feared and loathed the draconian 
security measures that ensured the Assad regime's survival, and 
they were shocked at the regime's brutal repression of the Hamah 
insurrection in 1982. Yet this fear was mitigated by the feeling that 
any successor regime would be worse than Assad's, and his strong 
authoritarian and paternalistic management of political affairs was 
endorsed because it had provided Syria with its first uninterrupted 
period of stability since independence in 1946. 


Government and Politics 

Constitutional Framework 

Between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1916 and promul- 
gation of a permanent constitution in 1973, Syria adopted several 
constitutions, all reflecting an amalgam of West European (chiefly 
French), Arab, and Islamic political cultures. The initial impetus 
to constitutionalism came from Syrian nationalist leaders of the 
post-World War I era who had been educated in the West during 
the late nineteenth century. These leaders proposed a Western-style 
parliament and a separate, independent judiciary as a counter- 
balance to the untrammeled power of Ottoman and later French 
Mandate administrators. The system of government envisioned by 
Syrian nationalists and legal scholars was to provide for popular 
participation in the political process and constitutional safeguards 
of personal and political rights. 

Constitutionalism failed to take hold, however, because of 
unremitting postindependence instability. A change in government 
leadership through a coup or a countercoup was almost always fol- 
lowed by a constitutional change intended to buttress the new 
political order. 

In 1987 the governmental structure was based on the Perma- 
nent Constitution of March 13, 1973. This charter is similar to 
the provisional constitution of May 1, 1969, as amended in Febru- 
ary and June 1971 . The Constitution provides for a republican form 
of government in what it calls "a democratic, popular, socialist, 
and sovereign state" and stipulates that the people are the ulti- 
mate source of national sovereignty. 

The Constitution reaffirms the long-held ideological premise that 
Syria is only a part of the one and indivisible "Arab nation" that 
is struggling for complete Arab unity. Syria is constitutionally 
declared still to be a member of the Federation of Arab Republics 
(FAR), which was inaugurated in April 1971 by Egypt, Syria, and 
Libya. Although the FAR was short lived, its constitutional for- 
mula provides a framework for ongoing Syrian efforts at unity with 
other Arab nations. 

Among the principles in the Constitution is the stipulation that 
the president be a Muslim, that the main source of legislation be 
Islamic fikh (doctrine and jurisprudence), and that the Baath Party 
be "the vanguard party in the society and the state." In addition, 
the state is directed to safeguard the fundamental rights of citizens 
to enjoy freedom and to participate in political, economic, social, 
and cultural life within the limits of the law. Free exercise of reli- 
gious belief is guaranteed as long as such exercise does not affect 
public order. In keeping with the Arab character of the nation, 


Syria: A Country Study 

the purpose of the educational system is described as creation of 
"an Arab national socialist generation with scientific training" — a 
generation committed to establishment of a united Arab socialist 

The Constitution's economic principles not only set forth a 
planned socialist economy that should take into account "economic 
complementarity in the Arab homeland" but also recognize three 
categories of property. The three kinds are property of the people, 
including all natural resources, public domains, nationalized enter- 
prises, and establishments created by the state; collective property, 
such as assets owned by popular and professional organizations; 
and private property. The Constitution states that the social func- 
tion of private property shall be subordinated, under law, to the 
national economy and public interests. However, expropriation 
may occur only with just compensation. 

Governmental powers are divided by the Constitution into 
executive, legislative, and judicial categories (see fig. 13). The Con- 
stitution is notable for strengthening the already formidable role 
of the presidency; the framers of the Constitution were clearly more 
concerned with the supremacy and stability of presidential powers 
than with the issue of checks and balances among the three branches 
of government. Official concern for political and governmental sta- 
bility is reflected in the relatively difficult procedures for amend- 
ing the Constitution. A bill to amend the Constitution may be 
introduced by the president or one-third of the members of the Peo- 
ple's Council (parliament), but its passage requires approval by 
a majority of three-fourths of the People's Council as well as by 
the president. 


The President and the Cabinet 

The president is elected for a seven-year term by universal 
suffrage. A candidate to the office must be a Syrian Arab Muslim, 
at least forty years of age, proposed by the Baath Party, and nomi- 
nated by the People's Council. The nominee is submitted to a 
national referendum. To be elected, the candidate must receive 
an absolute majority of votes cast. If not, a new candidate must 
be selected by the Baath Party for formal nomination by the Peo- 
ple's Council. 

The Constitution states that in the case of the president's tem- 
porary disablement, the vice president becomes acting president. 
However, in 1982 Assad named three vice presidents — Foreign 
Minister Abd al Halim Khaddam, Rifaat al Assad, and Baath Party 


Government and Politics 

Regional Command 
of the 
Baath Party 

Regional Secretary 

People's Council 

Council of 

Prime Minister 
Deputy Prime Ministers 



{ Ruling party 

The president is concurrently 
^ the regional secretary 

— Control 

^ Advisory and executive 


Court ol 


(supreme cc 




of Ap 





and Other 

Source:S/n'an Statistical Yearbook, 1986. 

Figure 13. Governmental System, 1987 

deputy director Zuhayr Mashariqa— but none of the three was 
specifically designated as successor. If the presidency falls vacant 
by resignation or death, a referendum must be held within ninety 
days to elect a new president. Under certain circumstances, the 
prime minister may exercise presidential functions for up to ninety 

The president cannot be removed except for high treason. 
Impeachment proceedings may be initiated through a petition 
signed by one-third of the members of the People's Council vot- 
ing openly or by a petition of two-thirds of the council members 
voting at a special closed session. The president can be tried only 
by the High Constitutional Court, of which he is a member. 

The president is both the head of state and the chief executive 
officer of the government. He is vested with sweeping powers that 
may be delegated, at his sole discretion, to his vice presidents. The 
president is also commander in chief of the armed forces. He 
appoints and dismisses the prime minister and other members of 
the Council of Ministers (the cabinet) and military officers. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Apart from executive authority relating to a wide range of govern- 
mental functions including foreign affairs, the president has the 
right to dissolve the People's Council, in which case a new council 
must be elected within ninety days from the date of dissolution. 
He may also exercise legislative power when the council is in recess, 
provided that all legislative acts promulgated by him are submit- 
ted to the legislature for approval at its first subsequent session. 
The Constitution also empowers the president to preempt legisla- 
tive power even while the People's Council is in session "in case 
of absolute need relating to national security." It states, however, 
that all presidential decrees must be presented to the legislature 
for its endorsement. The council may, by a two-thirds vote, amend 
or rescind presidential decrees, provided that the two-thirds majority 
constitutes no fewer than the absolute majority of the council mem- 
bership. The council's power to amend or nullify a presidential 
decree is only nominal, inasmuch as the council's action, whether 
for amendment or abrogation, is not to have a "retroactive effect." 

Under the Constitution, presidential authority extends also to 
the broadly phrased "right to submit to popular referendum impor- 
tant matters relating to the higher interests of the country." 
However, the question of what constitutes "higher interests" is 
left undefined. The results of such a referendum are "binding and 
executory with effect from the date of their promulgation" by the 
president. The presidential emergency power granted under Arti- 
cle 113 provides a mandate that is beyond any legal challenge: "In 
case of grave danger threatening national unity or the security and 
independence of the national territory or impeding the government's 
exercise of its constitutional prerogatives, the President of the 
Republic has the right to take appropriate emergency measures." 
This article has been in effect since the late 1960s (see Crime and 
Punishment, ch. 5). 

The Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister, is 
responsible to the president and serves collectively as the execu- 
tive and administrative arm of the president and of the state. A 
cabinet member can also be a member of the People's Council and, 
if so, is not answerable to the legislature for his official conduct 
while acting as a cabinet member. 

As of 1987, the Council of Ministers had last been reshuffled 
in April 1985. The council was headed by Prime Minister Abd ar 
Rauf al Kassim, who had served as prime minister since 1980, and 
three deputy prime ministers, who also held the portfolios of defense, 
services, and economic affairs. Ministers were in charge of the fol- 
lowing portfolios: agriculture and agrarian reform, communi- 
cations, construction, culture and national guidance, defense, 


Government and Politics 

economy and foreign trade, education, electricity, finance, foreign 
affairs, health, higher education, housing and utilities, industry, 
information, interior, irrigation, justice, local administration, oil 
and mineral wealth, religious trusts (waqfs), social affairs and labor, 
supply and internal trade, tourism, and transportation. In addi- 
tion, the Council of Ministers included ministers of state for cabi- 
net affairs, foreign affairs, planning affairs, People's Council affairs, 
and presidential affairs and three newly elected ministers of state 
without portfolio. 

The People's Council 

The members of the People's Council are elected for four-year 
terms by universal suffrage of citizens eighteen years of age or older 
in direct and secret ballot. The members, the number of which 
is determined by law, are chosen on the basis of single-member 
electoral districts. The Constitution requires that at least half of 
the council seats be set aside for "workers and peasants." The 195 
members of the People's Council serving in 1987 were elected in 

The People's Council sits in three regular sessions annually and 
may be called into special session by the speaker, by the president, 
or at the request of one-third of the council members. The law- 
makers are granted parliamentary immunity, and even when they 
are charged with criminal offenses, prior consent of the speaker 
is required before any prosecution against a member may proceed. 

The functions of the council include the nomination of a presiden- 
tial candidate, enactment of laws, discussion of government policy, 
approval of the general budget and development plans, and ratifi- 
cation of treaties. In addition, as part of its monitoring of the 
executive branch, the People's Council is authorized to act on a 
motion of no-confidence in the Council of Ministers as a whole 
or in an individual minister. Such a motion must be initiated by 
at least one-fifth of the members and, to become effective, must 
be approved by the majority of the People's Council. If the motion 
is carried, the Council of Ministers or the individual minister con- 
cerned must resign. The president can dissolve the People's Council, 
although the Constitution does not specify grounds for dissolution. 
It does say that the council may not be dissolved more than once 
for the same cause. 

The Judiciary 

In the 1980s, the Syrian judicial system remained a synthesis 
of Ottoman, French, and Islamic laws. The civil, commercial, and 
criminal codes in effect were, with some amendments, those 


A Country Study 

promulgated in 1949 and were based primarily on French legal 
practices. In addition, special provisions sanctioned limited appli- 
cation of customary law among beduin and religious minorities. 
Islamic religious courts based on sharia (Muslim law) continued 
to function in some parts of the country, but their jurisdiction was 
limited to issues of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, pater- 
nity, custody of children, and inheritance. In 1955 a personal code 
pertaining to many aspects of personal status was developed. This 
law modified and modernized sharia by improving the status of 
women and clarifying the laws of inheritance. 

The High Judicial Council is composed of senior civil judges 
and is charged with the appointment, transfer, and dismissal of 
judges. Article 131 of the Constitution states that the independence 
of the judiciary is to be guaranteed by the president in his role as 
chairman of the High Judicial Council. Article 133 stipulates that 
judges be autonomous and subject to no authority other than the 
law. Although the concept of an independent judiciary is enshrined 
in the Constitution, the president clearly exercises considerable 
power in the execution, as well as the formulation, of law. 

In 1987 Syria had a three-tiered court system, in addition to the 
state security courts. The Court of Cassation, sitting in Damas- 
cus, was the supreme court and the highest court of appeals. It 
had the authority to resolve both jurisdictional and judicial issues. 
Below the Court of Cassation were courts of appeal, and at the 
lowest level were courts of first instance, designated variously as 
magistrate courts, summary courts, and peace courts. Also at the 
basic level were juvenile and other special courts and an adminis- 
trative tribunal known as the Council of State. 

Under the 1973 Constitution, the High Constitutional Court was 
established to adjudicate electoral disputes, to rule on the constitu- 
tionality of a law or decree challenged by the president or People's 
Council, and to render opinions on the constitutionality of bills, 
decrees, and regulations when requested to do so by the president. 
The High Constitutional Court is forbidden, however, to ques- 
tion the validity of the popularly approved "laws submitted by the 
President of the Republic to popular referendums. " The court con- 
sists of the president and four judges he appoints to serve a renew- 
able term of four years. 

Local Administration 

In 1987 Syria was divided into thirteen provinces: Halab, 
Dimashq, Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Hamah, Al Hasakah, Hims, Idlib, 
Al Ladhiqiyah, Al Qunaytirah (which includes the Golan Heights), 



77z£ water tow<?r w 
o/terc a symbol of 
government services 
in rural areas. 

Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda, and Tartus (see fig. 1). Damascus, as 
the national capital, was administered separately as a governorate 
until 1987, when it was designated as a province; the areas out- 
side the city, which had constituted the separate Dimashq Province, 
were brought under the jurisdiction of the capital and were referred 
to as the "Province of Damascus rural area." In addition, Syrian 
maps included the Turkish province of Hatay, which the Syrians 
call Iskenderun. Each province is divided into districts, which in 
turn have subdistricts. Under Assad, government power remained 
highly centralized in Damascus, giving provincial governments little 

Each province is headed by a governor nominated by the minister 
of the interior and appointed by the central government. The gover- 
nor is responsible for administration, health, social services, educa- 
tion, tourism, public works, transportation, domestic trade, 
agriculture, industry, civil defense, and maintenance of law and 
order in the province. The minister of local administration works 
closely with each governor to coordinate and supervise local 
development projects. 

The governor is assisted by a provincial council, three-quarters 
of whose members are popularly elected for a term of four years, 
the remainder being appointed by the minister of the interior and 
the governor. In addition, each council has an executive arm con- 
sisting of six to ten officers appointed by the central government 


Syria: A Country Study 

from among the council's elected members. Each executive officer 
is charged with specific functions. 

Districts and subdistricts are administered by officials appointed 
by the governor, subject to the approval of the minister of the 
interior. These officials work with elected district councils to attend 
to assorted local needs and serve as intermediaries between cen- 
tral government authority and traditional local leaders, such as vil- 
lage chiefs, clan leaders, and councils of elders. 

Since Assad's 1970 Corrective Movement, the government has 
sought systematically to strengthen its control over local politics. 
The central government's firmer grasp on power has eroded the 
autonomy of both nomadic beduin and settled villagers who have 
until recently been allowed to practice self-government according 
to their own traditions and customs. 

In urban areas, local municipal councils license businesses, con- 
trol public services and utilities, and levy taxes. Some members 
of these councils are elected and some appointed. The councils are 
headed by mayors, who, in small towns, are responsible to the cen- 
tral government's district officer. If the town is the seat of the provin- 
cial government, the council is answerable directly to the governor 
of the province. 

Political Dynamics 

In early 1987, Syria remained under the effective control of the 
Assad regime. The country's stability contrasted sharply with the 
instability of earlier years, which had been punctuated by coups 
and countercoups and a bewildering succession of cabinets (see 
Coups and Countercoups, 1961-70, ch. 1). 


After independence in 1946, Syrian leaders established a par- 
liamentary democracy, which failed because politics remained cen- 
tered on personalities and because factional, sectarian, and tribal 
rivalries persisted. Such a situation was not conducive to domestic 
unity, much less to national consensus or political momentum. The 
multiparty political system gave way to a series of military dictator- 
ships, then to Syria's subordination to Egypt in the short-lived 
United Arab Republic (UAR) from February 1958 to September 
1961 (see United Arab Republic, ch. 1). Since 1963, when the Baath 
Party came to full power in Syria, political competition has evolved 
and shifted within the party. Under the party, the role of the mili- 
tary has been especially significant. 

At independence, power was concentrated in the hands of a 
wealthy oligarchy of landlords, industrialists, merchants, and 


Government and Politics 

lawyers. Most of this aristocracy were urban Sunni (see Glossary) 
Muslims who derived their influence from inherited wealth and 
social position, as well as from their early involvement in the Arab 
nationalist movement (see World War I, Arab Nationalism, and 
the French Mandate, ch. 1). Their political experience, however, 
was entirely based on opposition, first to Ottoman Turkey and then 
to France and Zionism. They had no precedent for a more posi- 
tive platform of national reconciliation and integration, mass mobili- 
zation, and popular welfare. 

The most prominent political organization in 1946 was the 
National Bloc, a loose alliance originally formed in 1928 by lead- 
ing members of landowning families and other well-known indi- 
viduals. This group was wealthy and well educated, chiefly at 
French and Turkish universities or at French- and American- 
operated colleges in Lebanon and Egypt. Their priority was 
eliminating the French while maintaining their personal power. 
They had little contact with the masses and did not seek to bridge 
the traditional gap separating the upper classes from the rest of 

Of the various political parties forming in Syria, two had risen 
to prominence by mid- 1947: the National Party and the People's 
Party. The National Party, which dominated the government until 
1949, represented the industrialists of Damascus, leading business- 
men, and prominent landlords. It was dedicated to continuing the 
power of men who had long worked together not only for indepen- 
dence but against union with Jordan and Iraq. 

Until 1949 the People's Party was the principal opposition. It 
represented the interests of the merchants and landlords of Aleppo 
against domination by Damascus. The party had a strong interest 
in agricultural issues — in contrast to the National Party's focus on 
industry — and close ties with Iraq, with which many of the mem- 
bers had strong commercial and trade relationships. The two par- 
ties therefore embodied the major traditional political divisions 
within Syria: the rivalry between Aleppo and Damascus and that 
between those who favored unity with the Levant (Palestine, 
Lebanon, and Syria) as opposed to those who favored unity with 
the Fertile Crescent (Iraq, Jordan and Syria). 

Along with these parties, a new party was evolving. The Baath 
Party can be traced to 1940, when two Damascene secondary 
schoolteachers, Michel Aflaq and Salah ad Din al Bitar, were 
inspired by the Arab renaissance movement. In 1943 the term Baath 
(meaning resurrection) became associated with the movement, and 
in 1944 the movement was transformed into a party. In April 1947, 
the Baath Party held its first congress, which was attended by around 


Syria: A Country Study 

250 members. Most were Syrians, but Jordanian, Lebanese, and 
Iraqi students in Syrian schools were also present. Most of the origi- 
nal members were students, teachers, professionals, and public 
employees — the kernel of Syria's emerging new middle class. The 
congress elected Aflaq, the party's philosopher and ideologue, as 
"dean," the equivalent of secretary general. Bitar became the 
organizational and administrative leader. 

In 1947 the Baath Party was a marginal political force. It was 
organizationally weak and unprepared to assert itself effectively. 
Gradually, it broadened its constituency beyond the narrow circle 
of students and intellectuals to include the urban lower middle class, 
which was attracted to the party's proposed program of social and 
economic reform. At the same time, the party's unflagging emphasis 
on Arab nationalism evoked considerable support from the mili- 
tary's officer corps. 

The constitution adopted by the Baath founding congress of 1947 
extolled the motto of "Unity, Freedom, and Socialism" as an 
integrated concept, in which no one element could be attained 
without the other two. Of the three, however, Arab unity was con- 
sidered first among equals as the primary catalyst of Arab resur- 
rection. Socialism was not an end in itself but a means to achieve 
the higher ends of freedom, unity, and socioeconomic justice. 

Aflaq rejected a doctrinaire definition of socialism. He main- 
tained that his socialism aimed at more than merely equalizing 
wealth and providing food, shelter, and clothing; instead, it aimed 
at the higher goal of freeing an individual's talents and abilities. 
This higher goal was to be attained not through evolution but revo- 
lution, which he described as a "violent wrenching away" and an 
awakening and self-purification. Baath dogma exalted the indi- 
vidual, who was to be free in action, thought, and opportunity in 
a democratic, parliamentary, constitutional state. 

The doctrine of a single, indivisible Arab nation was central to 
Baathist ideology, and statehood was regarded as parochial, nega- 
tive, and doomed to failure (see Political Orientations, this ch.). 
Baathist doctrine condemned colonialist imperialism, which was 
and is held to include Zionism, negativism, restrictive state 
nationalism, sectarianism, and racial and ethnic prejudice. The 
Arab superstate envisioned by the Baathists was to be founded on 
a secular, rather than Islamic, framework. However, Christians 
and other religious minorities were admonished to regard Islam 
as a "beloved cultural heritage." Furthermore, religious life and 
values were to endure in an atmosphere of religious toleration. In 
foreign policy, the party advocated nonalignment with the super- 
powers and espoused neutrality. Aflaq and Bitar were impressed 


Government and Politics 

by Marxist visions of a Utopian society free of exploitation but were 
not won over to communism, which they regarded as subservient 
to Soviet interests and therefore detrimental to Arab national 

In 1949 popular dissatisfaction with the performance of the con- 
servative ruling elite reached a peak, giving the Baath Party an 
opportunity to play a more prominent role in Syrian politics. Army 
officers were angered by what they perceived as civilian bungling 
of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This anger paved the way for 
Brigadier General Husni az Zaim to stage Syria's first army coup 
d'etat, an event that presaged the rise of the military as the con- 
trolling force in Syrian politics. The bloodless takeover, which was 
widely applauded by the press, opposition politicians, and much 
of the public, marked the permanent transfer of political power 
from the traditional landowning elite to a new coalition of young 
intellectuals, army officers, and the small but growing middle class. 
The Baath Party welcomed the coup and hoped the Zaim regime 
would stamp out the government's endemic corruption and usher 
in parliamentary politics. 

However, the Zaim government did not bring stability. Rather, 
four more military coups were staged prior to Syria's unification 
with Egypt in 1958. Beneath the facade of dictatorial rule, prolifer- 
ating Syrian political parties were locked in chaotic competition 
with the Baath Party for dominance of Syrian politics. Partisan 
rivalry was particularly intense for the allegiance of the armed forces, 
which party organizers realized would control the government. The 
conservative National Party and People's Party waned in influence, 
while the semifascist Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), 
founded in 1933 by a Lebanese Christian, Antun Saadeh, gained 
numerous adherents. The SSNP called for the creation of a 
"Greater Syria" encompassing Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and 
Cyprus. The Syrian Communist Party (SCP), headed by Khalid 
Bakdash, was small, but its tight organization and disciplined fol- 
lowing gave it far greater importance than its size alone would have 
merited. Another party, the Arab Socialist Party (ASP), was a seri- 
ous contender for the allegiance of the middle class. The ASP was 
founded in 1950 by Akram Hawrani as an outgrowth of the Youth 
Party he had established in 1939. His doctrine followed closely that 
of Aflaq and Bitar. Hawrani' s followers were drawn mostly from 
Hamah and Horns; they included teachers, students, urban work- 
ers, and numerous associates organized by his relatives. In addi- 
tion, he cultivated many followers in the armed forces. 

In early 1953, the ASP merged with the Baath Party, combin- 
ing the well-developed ideological framework of the Baath Party 


Syria: A Country Study 

with Hawrani's grass-roots organizational base. No substantial 
changes were required in the merger except the insertion of the 
word socialist (ishtiraki) in the new party's name. Hawrani also found 
no difficulty in accepting Aflaq's 1947 constitution, which continued 
in toto as the scripture of Baathism, and the founding year of the 
Baath Party is still considered 1947. 

The new Baath Party quickly became a serious challenge to all 
existing parties. The intense rivalry between the Baath Party and 
the SSNP climaxed in the April 1955 assassination of Colonel Adnan 
Malki, the deputy chief of staff and a leading Baathist, by a ser- 
geant in the SSNP. Following the assassination, the SSNP was 
accused of plotting to overthrow the government, and its leaders 
either fled the country or were convicted of conspiracy. Conse- 
quently, the SSNP disappeared as an effective political force in 

In 1957 the Baathists entered into a partnership with their erst- 
while adversaries, the Communists, in order to crush the residual 
power of conservative parties. This left-wing alliance succeeded in 
eliminating the right wing. However, in the last months of 1957, 
the Communists and other radicals came to dominate the left-wing 
alliance, while the Baath Party's power eroded. 

Fearing the Communists' growing power, the Baath Party drafted 
a bill in December 1957 for union between Syria and Egypt. 
Because Arab unity is a sacred aspiration, the Baathists knew that 
neither the Communists nor any other politicians could openly 
oppose it. In February 1958, Syria joined Egypt to form the UAR. 
The Baath Party realized that President Gamal Abdul Nasser's 
declared hostility to political parties would mean the end of its legal 
existence but gambled that the communist movement, which was 
being ruthlessly persecuted in Egypt at the time, would be damaged 

The Baathists were partially correct. Hawrani, titular head of 
the Baath Party, was appointed vice president of the new repub- 
lic. However, all real power resided in Nasser's hands, and Syria 
was governed as a virtual colony of Egypt. On September 28, 1961, 
a military coup took Syria out of the UAR, and in December 1961 , 
a general election for the constituent assembly was held; Com- 
munists and Nasserites were banned from running for office. 
Although a few Baathists were elected, the majority of the new 
assembly consisted of members of the conservative People's Party 
and National Party. People's Party leader Nazim al Qudsi was 
elected president. 

From 1961 to 1963, Syria was in a state of near anarchy. Coups 
and countercoups, street fighting between Nasserites, Communists, 


Government and Politics 

and Baathists, and battles between rival army factions plunged the 
nation into chaos. 

Early in 1963, a group of senior officers conspired to stage yet 
another coup. To build their alliance within the military, they joined 
forces with a group of Baathist majors and lieutenant colonels, who 
turned out to be more formidable than they or anyone else real- 
ized. The original group of officers had been transferred to Egypt 
during the union as a form of internal exile because of their sus- 
pected opposition to the UAR. Irritated at Egyptian dominance 
of the union, they organized the secret Military Committee, which 
was dedicated to seizing power. They deviated from the Baath 
Party's pan-Arabism in championing Syrian nationalism. Having 
grown up for the most part in relatively poor rural areas of Syria, 
these men strongly advocated land reform and other socialist meas- 
ures. Most of the committee belonged to minority groups. For 
example, the original core of conspirators consisted of three Alawis 
(see Glossary) and two Ismailis (see Glossary). Later, the Military 
Committee was enlarged to include fifteen members. Only six of 
these members were Sunni Muslims; the remainder consisted of 
five Alawis, two Druzes (see Glossary), and two Ismailis. 

The coup, subsequently called the Baath Revolution, occurred 
on March 8, 1963. Baath Party cofounder Bitar was installed as 
prime minister, and, within several months, the Baathists had 
maneuvered their non-Baathist associates out of power. The Baath 
Party, especially its military component and its "Regional Com- 
mand" as opposed to its National Command, has dominated Syria 
since (see The Baath Party Apparatus, this ch.). 

Although the Baath Revolution was bracketed chronologically 
by prior and subsequent coups, countercoups, and power strug- 
gles, it was far more than another convulsion in the body politic. 
Rather, it marked a crucial turning point in Syria's postindepen- 
dence history. Because of the coup, the focus of Syrian politics 
shifted markedly to the left, where it has remained since. However, 
just as the Baath Party became ascendant, the military officers who 
had commandeered it as a vehicle for their own rise to power aban- 
doned its original egalitarian ideology by establishing a military 
dictatorship. In 1966 the party's cofounders, Aflaq and Bitar, were 
expelled from the party and exiled from Syria. Bitar, in an inter- 
view conducted several weeks before he was assassinated in Paris 
in July 1980, reportedly at the hands of Syrian intelligence, said 
"The major deviation of the Baath is having renounced democ- 
racy . . . the two real bases of the regime are dictatorship and con- 
fessionalism. The Baath Party, as a party, does not exist." Assad's 
November 1970 takeover of Syria in a bloodless coup — the 


Syrian President 
Hafiz al Assad 
Courtesy Embassy of Syria 

Corrective Movement — cemented Baath Party dominance in Syrian 
politics. Yet, as Assad created the political institutions through 
which he would rule, he sought to liberalize the political situation, 
albeit within carefully circumscribed limits, to diversify support 
for his new regime. For example, in February 1971 he established 
the People's Council as an appointed deliberative body; following 
adoption of the Permanent Constitution in 1973, it became an 
elected body. 

In 1972 Assad instituted a multiparty system by creating the 
National Progressive Front (NPF), a coalition of the Baath Party, 
the SCP, and three small left-wing parties — the ASP, the Nasserite 
Syrian Arab Socialist Union, and the Socialist Union Movement. 
In 1987 this coalition continued to govern Syria with its seventeen- 
member Central Command, which coordinated the activities of the 
five parties. Although the Baath Party was unquestionably the 
dominant party in the coalition, and the other parties were nearly 
invisible, Syria remained one of the few Arab nations with multi- 
ple legal political parties. 

In 1978 Assad pledged to implement a "new formula" that would 
rehabilitate and incorporate some of the old conservative political 
parties from the pre-Baath regime under the NPF umbrella. 
Although the new formula was never implemented because Syria 
was beset with internal security problems, in 1987 the NPF retained 
an open-ended framework that could expand to include diverse 


Government and Politics 

elements. Assad appeared committed to broadening his regime's 
support, so long as broadening did not diminish his power. 

The Baath Party Apparatus 

The Baath Party has never been a mass party. Although party 
membership has expanded considerably beyond the several hundred 
activists of the 1963 revolution, regime policy has kept member- 
ship relatively small. Although Aflaq and Bitar rejected com- 
munism, they intentionally emulated the Leninist organizational 
model of a vanguard elite. Party admission has been highly selec- 
tive, particularly at higher echelons. Recruits must be nominated 
by a member and pass through a rigorous initiation period of at 
least two years before becoming members. The Baath Party has 
attempted to limit membership to the ideologically committed, 
believing that indiscriminate recruitment would dilute the party's 
effectiveness. In the late 1960s, for example, class origin was a 
determining criterion, and anyone from a class judged hostile to 
the party's goals, regardless of his or her personal political beliefs, 
was excluded. 

In the Assad era, however, membership criteria were relaxed. 
In 1987 the Baath Party had approximately 50,000 full members 
and a further 200,000 candidate members in probationary status. 
The Baath Party administered a panoply of "popular organiza- 
tions" whose membership was not exclusively, or even primarily, 
Baathist. Thus the party incorporated many Syrian citizens while 
restricting full-fledged membership. 

Nominally, the highest body within the Baath Party was the 
National Command, whose status dated from before the party split 
in 1966. This twenty-one-member body was composed of about 
half Syrians and half Arabs from other countries, such as Leba- 
non, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as Palestinians. Theoretically, the 
National Command was the embryonic government of a future uni- 
fied Arab nation, and it embodied the fiction that Syria continued 
to place priority on pan-Arabism. Although Syria in 1987 still paid 
lip service to the pan-Arab slogans that were a driving force in the 
party in the 1940s and 1950s, the National Command's power was 
more symbolic than real. Although the National Command poten- 
tially could play an evangelical role in creating new Baath Party 
branches in Arab countries and could support existing branches, 
Syrian policymakers have de-emphasized such a role. In actuality, 
the National Command, headed by Assad in 1987, provided 
honorary posts for some figures who had been retired from active 
Syrian political life and for others waiting in the wings to assume 
greater responsibility. 


Syria: A Country Study 

The actual executive core of the Baath Party was the twenty- 
one-member Regional Command, also headed by Assad, which 
directed Baath activities in Syria. Its name referred to the Baath 
consideration of Syria as one region within the larger Arab nation. 
In 1987 Syria's three vice presidents, prime minister, minister of 
defense, armed forces chief of staff, and speaker of the People's 
Council held positions on the Regional Command. The other 
Regional Command members were solely Baath Party function- 
aries, including the party secretaries of Aleppo and Hamah, and 
the party representatives who headed the party bureaus of higher 
education, trade unions, and economy. 

Below the Regional Command was the Central Committee, 
created in January 1980 at the seventh Baath Party regional con- 
gress as a conduit for consultation and communication between 
the Regional Command and its subordinate local branches. At the 
eighth Baath Party regional congress in January 1985, the Cen- 
tral Committee's membership was increased from seventy-five to 
ninety-five. Its most important task was to elect the Regional Com- 
mand, a task that had previously been the responsibility of the 
delegates to the regional congress meeting in plenary session. The 
Central Committee was also intended to represent the regional con- 
gress when the latter was not in session. 

Subordinate to the Regional Command was a layer of nineteen 
branch commands: one in each of the thirteen provinces, one each 
in Damascus and Aleppo, and one in each of the country's four 
universities. Typically, the provincial governor, chief of police, 
mayor, and other local officials were members of the Branch Com- 
mand, but the branch secretary and other executive posts were held 
by full-time party functionaries. Farther down the organizational 
chart, each provincial district or quarter of a city had a party 
organization commensurate with its size. At the grass-roots level, 
the party was organized into circles or cells of three to seven mem- 
bers, a remnant from the party's past as a secret organization. Three 
to seven circles in turn comprised a division, and several divisions 
formed a section. Each section represented a village or neigh- 

The Regional Command and the Central Committee were 
elected every four years at the regional congress. Delegates of the 
branch organizations elected the Central Committee, which in turn 
elected the Regional Command. Although Assad and his intimates 
set the agenda and controlled results of the regional congresses, 
the rank and file nevertheless had an opportunity to complain and 
voice opinions about important national issues. During the eighth 
regional congress in January 1985, the 771 branch delegates 


Government and Politics 

expressed remarkably candid criticism of corruption and economic 

Baath Party presence in the armed forces was separate but parallel 
to that in the civilian apparatus. The two wings of the Baath Party 
joined only at the Regional Command, where both military and 
civilian members belonged to the Regional Command and where 
delegates from party organizations in military units met at regional 
congresses. The military wing of the Baath Party has established 
branches down to the battalion level. The leader of such a branch 
was called a tawjihi (political guide). Not all military officers were 
party members, but it was almost a prerequisite for advancement 
to flag rank (see Manpower, Recruitment, and Conscription, ch. 5). 

Baath Party appointees included a five-member Inspection and 
Control Committee, selected in 1980 and charged with enforcing 
the statutes of the Baath Party and monitoring internal affairs, dis- 
cipline, and deviation from party norms. "Deviation" was defined 
in the Party Security Law, passed in 1979, which imposed a pri- 
son term of between five and ten years for any party member join- 
ing another political organization or anyone infiltrating the Baath 
Party to work for the interests of another party. Prison terms were 
also set for such offenses as attacking party offices, obstructing party 
activities, and attempting to obtain classified party documents or 
confidential information. If carried out at the instigation of for- 
eign interests, such infractions carried the death penalty. 

Through its People's Organizations Bureau, the Baath Party 
administered a number of organizations, including its own militia, 
the People's Army. Other organizations were the Revolutionary 
Youth Organization, Union of Students, Women's Organization, 
Peasants' Federation, and General Federation of Trade Unions. 
Each organization was supervised by a member of the Regional 
Command; a popular organization with a large membership in a 
given province might have a provincial branch command respon- 
sible for its activities. These organizations inculcated Baath values 
in their members, provided new recruits, and extended services 
to various social groups. 

The coming generation was carefully cultivated by the party. 
Indoctrination began with membership in the Vanguards, an 
organization for grade-school boys and girls. Vanguard members 
attended summer paramilitary training camps operated by the 
armed forces. Later, youth joined the Revolutionary Youth 
Organization, Union of Students, or General Federation of Trade 

As befitted a party founded by teachers and that for many years 
recruited its members from secondary schools and universities, the 


Syria: A Country Study 

Baath Party still catered to the intellectual and educated elite. The 
organizational parity of party branches in universities, having stu- 
dent bodies of only several thousands, with party branches in 
provinces, having populations of hundreds of thousands, testified 
to this partiality. Furthermore, the Baath Party operated its own 
school system, the apex of which was the Higher Political Insti- 
tute, which was the graduate department of political science at the 
University of Damascus. 

Nevertheless, the party has been working assiduously for years 
to increase the number of peasants and workers in its ranks. In 
the mid-1970s, the Baath Party instituted a special mobilization 
campaign throughout rural agricultural areas of Syria to swell 
enlistment in the Peasants' Federation. It was claimed that union 
membership was growing by 30,000 people per year. 

The Syrian Communist Party 

The Syrian Communist Party (SCP), the bitter adversary of the 
Baath Party in the late 1950s, was in 1987 the second largest legal 
political party in Syria and an important constituent element of 
the NPF. The venerable Khalid Bakdash, a Kurd from Damascus 
who has been called the "dean of Arab communism," remained 
the SCP's secretary general. Politburo member Daniel Nimah 
represented the party on the Central Command of the NPF and 
accompanied Assad on his state visits to Moscow. In the early 1980s, 
the SCP was temporarily banned by Assad; however, in 1986 it 
was restored to favor, partially as a concession to the Soviet Union. 
Nine SCP members were elected to the People's Council in early 
1986 elections, and the SCP held its sixth party congress in Damas- 
cus in July. During the congress, SCP Central Committee mem- 
bers who had precipitated the rift with Assad through strident 
criticism of the regime were purged from the party. 

The SCP was organized like other communist parties and had 
a Politburo, Secretariat, Central Committee, and official publica- 
tion, a magazine entitled Nidal ash Shaab (The People's Struggle). 
In the mid-1980s, the SCP stressed its political and ideological 
independence from the Syrian regime and operated to a limited 
extent as a genuine opposition party. It criticized Baath Party eco- 
nomic policies, refereed regime relations with the Soviet Union, 
and, through its Committee for Solidarity with African and Asian 
Nations, acted as a conduit for Syrian relations with some Third 
World nations. 

SCP criticism of the Syrian government has been surprisingly 
candid. Politburo member Khalid Hammami wrote in 1984 that 
"Syria has abandoned its progressive socioeconomic policy" and 


Government and Politics 

stated that the "ruling quarters are suspicious and fearful of the 
masses" and curtail democratic freedoms. SCP deputy secretary 
general Yusuf Faysal has excoriated the "parasitic and bureaucratic 
bourgeoisie" in the Syrian government. However, the SCP is care- 
ful to limit its criticism to lower level Syrian politicians and more 
often acts as a silent partner to the Baath Party in Syrian politics. 

The Power Elite 

In early 1987, the Syrian government remained an autocracy 
in which power was concentrated in the hands of President Assad. 
Assad (the name means "lion" in Arabic and was chosen by Assad 
to replace his actual family name of Al Wahash, which means 
"beast") had tightened his grip in sixteen years as chief of state. 
Assad's leadership was legitimized through such governmental 
structures as the Baath Party apparatus, the People's Council, and 
the Council of Ministers. These institutions, however, were a veneer 
for military rule, and the holders of nominally important political 
posts rarely wielded independent power. Assad's true base of sup- 
port lay in his control of key military units, various praetorian 
guards, and the intelligence and security services. The commando 
forces, bodyguards, and secret police — referred to generically by 
Syrian citizens as the mukhabarat — were instrumental in maintain- 
ing the Assad regime's power. The men Assad entrusted with 
command of these forces often exerted political influence dispropor- 
tionate to their official positions and had a greater political voice 
than civilian politicians. Ultimately, however, Assad was more 
inclined to designate responsibility to his underlings than to delegate 
authority to them. 

Until the mid-1980s, the Syrian power elite was composed of 
Assad and his family. The president's younger brother, Rifaat, com- 
manded a division-sized praetorian guard called the Defense Com- 
panies (Saraya- ad Difa), which was stationed in Damascus as a 
countercoup force. His older brother, Jamil al Assad, commanded 
a militia called the Murtada. A nephew, Adnan al Assad, com- 
manded the Struggle Companies (Saraya as Sira), while another 
nephew, Fawwaz, led a security force stationed in Latakia. These 
commando forces were not under the command of the regular 
armed forces; rather, they were constructed as counterweights to 
the power of the regular military. Jamil was put under house arrest 
in 1981 after an unsuccessful challenge to his brother, and in 1984 
Rifaat was exiled to Europe and his Defense Companies incorpo- 
rated into the army when he likewise sought to attain power. Assad 
was therefore compelled to dilute the power of his family mem- 
bers because they posed a threat to him. 


Syria: A Country Study 

In 1987 Assad was not the apex of a pyramid of power nor had 
he created a hierarchical power elite below him. Rather, he relied 
on a coterie of about a dozen men with approximately equal power 
who commanded key military units or security services. In com- 
peting to protect their positions, they counterbalanced and 
neutralized each other. Their areas of responsibility were compart- 
mentalized and overlapping, and they reported directly to the 
president rather than coordinating with their counterparts. Con- 
sequently, they could not easily build their own power bases or 
form coalitions that might pose a threat to Assad's rule. 

This cell structure allowed Assad to retain power in Syria for 
an unprecedented period of time. Most of the elite group belonged 
to Assad's Alawi minority, and many belonged to Assad's own 
Numaylatillah clan and Matawirah tribe within the Alawi minority. 
Some were related to the president and to each other by blood or 
marriage, further ensuring their loyalty. Moreover, Assad report- 
edly had been assiduous in paying homage to the Alawi traditional 
tribal elders to reinforce this minority power base. 

In theory, the most important men in Syria after the president 
were the vice presidents. However, Assad's appointment of three 
vice presidents in 1985 reflected the divide-and-rule strategy he 
applied elsewhere in the government. In order to maintain family 
solidarity, Rifaat al Assad was made vice president for security 
affairs, but by 1987, stripped of his military command, he had no 
real power. As a matter of protocol to symbolize the continued 
importance of the party, Baath Party functionary Zuhayr 
Mashariqa, a Sunni Muslim, was appointed vice president for party 
affairs. Abd al Halim Khaddam, the former foreign minister, was 
promoted to vice president for political and foreign affairs. Of the 
three vice presidents, Khaddam acted as the true deputy to Assad 
and was firmly ensconced in the president's inner circle. In early 
1987, foreign observers tended to view Khaddam as a candidate 
to succeed Assad as a compromise leader. 

Non-Alawis were also influential in the Assad regime. Khaddam, 
for example, was a Sunni Muslim (athough his wife was a 
Matawirah Alawi). Prime Minister Abd ar Rauf al Kassim, Speaker 
of the People's Council Mahmud az Zubi, Baath Party assistant 
secretary general Abdallah al Ahmar, and Armed Forces Chief of 
Staff Hikmat Shihabi were other Sunni Muslims holding high 
government positions in 1987. Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlas 
was also a Sunni Muslim, although his mother was an Alawi. Most 
Sunnis who had risen to prominence in the military since the Baath 
Revolution, including Shihabi and Tlas, had a similar background: 
they were born in and grew up in rural villages, rather than in 


A panoramic view of the A I Mazzah district of Damascus; 
the presidential palace is to the right of the divided highway 

Damascus or other large cities. Such men, although belonging to 
the nation's Sunni majority, were never members of the old 
privileged Sunni elite and shared a common socioeconomic class 
origin with the new minority elite. Assad's refusal to designate a 
successor was typical of his refusal to share political power. His 
mysterious demeanor seemed to justify his nickname, "the sphinx," 
which he earned while a member of the secret officers' conspiracy 
in Egypt in the late 1950s. 

In 1980, however, Assad began to cultivate the support of mem- 
bers of the old Sunni Damascene elite, a class that contained many 
of Syria's influential technocrats, intellectuals, and merchants. He 
propelled some of these people into high-profile (if not powerful) 
positions in his government. Assad's patronage gave the Sunni elite 
a vested interest in accommodating itself to the new order, which 
helped legitimize and stabilize his regime. For example, Prime 
Minister Kassim is from an old Damascene family. Minister of 
Culture Najah al Attar is the sister of exiled Muslim Brotherhood 
opposition leader Issam al Attar. Because the Attar family is 
respected by Damascene Sunni Muslims, her appointment served 
to discourage the Muslim fundamentalist opposition from operat- 
ing in Damascus. 

Another less-known pillar of regime support was the tacit coali- 
tion of minorities that Assad had constructed. Non-Muslims such 


Syria: A Country Study 

as Christians and Druzes, heterodox Muslims such as Ismailis and 
Yazidis, and non-Arab Muslims such as Kurds and Circassians 
had made common cause with the Alawi minority because of the 
shared fear that they would be persecuted under an orthodox Sunni 
government. Consequently, members of such minority groups were 
appointed to important posts in the Assad government. 

In addition to these groups, several important and influential 
military figures supported Assad in 1987. Major General Muham- 
mad Khawli, chief of air force intelligence and head of the National 
Security Council, was Assad's right-hand man. Khawli was a 
Matawirah Alawi and a long-time trusted friend of Assad. His 
position was especially sensitive because Assad rose to power 
through the air force, and this service has been the breeding ground 
for several abortive coup attempts. Khawli's deputy, Lieutenant 
Colonel Haitham Sayid, was allegedly involved in sponsorship of 
terrorism in Europe (see Sponsorship of Terrorism, ch. 5). Ali 
Asian, also a Matawirah Alawi, was deputy chief of staff of the 
armed forces. Asian, a rising political star, was promoted to army 
corps general in 1984, a rank shared only by the minister of defense 
and the armed forces chief of staff. Both Khawli and Asian were 
elected to the Baath Party Central Committee in 1984. Adnan 
Makhluf, the president's brother-in-law, commanded the Repub- 
lican Guard, a presidential protection force. Other core members 
of the Syrian power elite in 1987 included Air Defense Commander 
Ali Salih and Army Intelligence Chief Ali Duba, both Alawis of 
the Matawirah tribe. In 1987 Duba reportedly was leader of a clique 
that included Army First Division Commander Ibrahim Safi and 
Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan; this coterie 
was competing for influence with a group led by Khawli and 

Members of the power elite occasionally fall from grace. After 
the 1984 power struggle, General Intelligence Directorate Chief 
Ahmad Diab, a staunch supporter of Rifaat's bid for succession, 
was demoted. However, Assad, pursuing his evenhanded policy, 
also chastised Rifaat's rivals for power; Ali Haydar, commander 
of the Special Forces, and commander of the army's Third Divi- 
sion Shafiq al Fayyad were removed from their commands as well. 
Rifaat al Assad was exiled to Western Europe once again in early 
1986, where he remained in early 1987. These men probably could 
be rehabilitated and restored to rank if they proved their renewed 
loyalty to Assad. 

In 1987 the power elite remained in a state of flux in which peo- 
ple were rising to power, being demoted, being rehabilitated, and 
forming and breaking alliances. Assad permitted and manipulated 


Government and Politics 

much of this maneuvering because it both revealed and dissipated 
the ambitions of potential rivals. 

In 1987 the question of who will eventually succeed Assad as 
president remained open. In a 1984 interview, Assad stated that 
his successor would be nominated by the Baath Party and the Peo- 
ple's Council, which constituted the "supreme legitimate authority 
in the country," and elected by public referendum. Although Assad 
has governed Syria through a power elite, his answer expressed 
his desire for Syria to be governed in the future by institutions rather 
than personalities. 

Post-1982 Political Developments 

In 1982 Syria neutralized nearly simultaneous foreign and domes- 
tic challenges: it maintained its dominance in Lebanon in the face 
of the Israeli invasion through strategic, if not tactical, victory, and 
it crushed the internal insurrection of Muslim Brotherhood rebels. 
Although the victories may have been Pyrrhic, the regime emerged 
in an apparently strong position. 

However, just as Syria was poised to exploit its new strength 
and assert greater regional dominance, a new crisis threatened to 
topple the government. In November 1983, Assad, a diabetic, 
suffered a severe heart attack, complicated by phlebitis. He was 
hospitalized for a protracted time, and the government was essen- 
tially paralyzed. Then, fissures began to appear within the regime. 
The president's younger brother, Rifaat, plastered public places 
in Damascus with his own photograph, bearing the caption "the 
commander," along with photographs of the eldest Assad brother, 
Jamil, bearing the caption "the spiritual father." In February 1984 
Rifaat, in a premature attempt to succeed his ailing brother, dis- 
patched his Defense Companies to positions around Damascus. The 
Defense Companies were confronted by other military units loyal 
to the president: the Special Forces under the command of Hay- 
dar, the army's Third Division commanded by Fayyad, and the 
Republican Guard commanded by Makhluf. The two sides engaged 
in skirmishes, and shots were fired near the presidential palace. 

In March the president recovered sufficiently to regain control 
of the situation. He demobilized the army units, and on March 
1 1 he shuffled his cabinet and appointed the three vice presidents. 
Syria had not had a vice president since the resignation of Mahmud 
al Ayyubi in 1974, and the appointments were clearly aimed at 
defusing the struggle for succession. The vice presidents were 
announced in the following order: Khaddam, former minister of 
foreign affairs; Rifaat; and Mashariqa, deputy secretary of the Baath 
Party Regional Command. The minister of state for foreign 


Syria: A Country Study 

affairs, Faruq Sharaa, was named minister of foreign affairs, and 
the governor of Damascus, Yassin Rajjuh, was appointed minister 
of information to replace Ahmad Iskander Ahmad, who had died. 
Tlas, who retained his portfolio as minister of defense, was also 
named deputy prime minister. The president's actions were stop- 
gap measures designed to disperse power among the rival contenders 
and to dilute his work load. 

In early May, Assad suffered a relapse, and Rifaat once again 
attempted to seize power, surrounding radio and television broad- 
casting stations in Damascus and stationing surface-to-air missiles 
atop Mount Qasiyun overlooking the capital. Fierce street fight- 
ing broke out in the northern city of Latakia between Rifaat's 
Defense Companies and the Special Forces. In a week of combat, 
nine officers and and about 200 soldiers died. The repercussions 
of the clash far outweighed the number of casualties, for a minia- 
ture civil war between Alawi military units in the Alawis' home 
province of Al Ladhiqiyah posed a grave danger to the minority 
regime. Syrian opposition leaders, exiled in Western Europe and 
the Middle East, applauded what they believed to be the immi- 
nent downfall of the Assad regime, but, lacking a base within Syria, 
they were powerless to take advantage of the factional fighting. 

Assad acted at first tentatively, and then more boldly, to reas- 
sert his power and restore public confidence in his regime. First, 
the Alawi clans held a reconciliation meeting. Then, at the end 
of May, Rifaat and his two chief competitors, General Haydar and 
General Fayyad, were dispatched first to Moscow and then to 
Western Europe on lengthy "diplomatic missions." Around 150 
lower ranking officers and officials who had played a part in the 
power struggle were also sent to Western Europe. On July 1, the 
day a semiannual round of military retirements and rotations tradi- 
tionally occurs, Assad transferred to administrative positions mili- 
tary figures who had sided too aggressively with either camp. Also 
in July, Rabitah, Rifaat's public relations organ, was disbanded and 
his newspaper, Al Fursan, was suppressed. A month later, the Baath 
Party's National Command was purged of seven members loyal 
to Rifaat, including Suhayl Suhayl, head of the People's Organi- 
zations Bureau; foreign relations head Muhammad Haydar, head 
of the foreign relations section; Naji Jamil, former air force com- 
mander, who joined Rifaat's camp in Switzerland. 

The president also acted to discipline the armed forces as a whole 
by conducting an anticorruption and antismuggling campaign. The 
public had long been irritated by the apparent immunity from the 
law of many military officers. The rampant and open smuggling 
across the Lebanese border was particularly visible. Assad first 


A busy street in Damascus 

closed down the smugglers' market in downtown Damascus, where 
contraband was unloaded from military trucks and sold by men 
in uniform. Next, several army commanders were court-martialed. 
Then, in another military reform, Assad began to organize a new 
corps structure in the armed services, a move that added a protec- 
tive layer of bureaucratic insulation between the troops in the field 
and national-level politics (see The Regular Armed Forces, ch. 5). 

Internal stability remained precarious, however, and on July 10, 
1984, newly appointed Vice President Khaddam narrowly escaped 
an assassination attempt when a car bomb exploded near his 
entourage. Khaddam publicly implied that Rifaat was to blame 
for the attempt, and in a September interview Minister of Defense 
Tlas claimed that Rifaat was "persona non grata forever" in Syria, 
and that if he returned, he would be "shorter by a head." 

Nonetheless, the president felt secure enough to invite his prodi- 
gal brother back to Syria, ending his six-month-long banishment. 
To bolster his reputation as a statesman, Rifaat, who had moved 
to Paris and established an antiregime newspaper, timed his arrival 
on November 26, 1984, to coincide with a visit of French presi- 
dent Francois Mitterrand. Although Rifaat returned to great fan- 
fare, his wings had been clipped; he was stripped of command of 
the powerful Defense Companies. In addition, Rifaat's efforts to 
delegate the command to his brother-in-law, Muayyin Nassif, were 
blocked by President Assad, who instead appointed loyalist Hikmat 


Syria: A Country Study 

Ibrahim to the post. Furthermore, the Defense Companies were 
stripped of their organic air defense elements and several of their 
commando units and were eventually absorbed into the regular 
army as Unit 569 (see Special and Irregular Armed Forces, ch. 5). 

In the wake of these chaotic events, in 1985 President Assad acted 
decisively to restore public faith in his government, to reassert his 
personal leadership, and to dispel the popular perception that he 
was an ailing figurehead. For example, Assad raised his public pro- 
file with a series of inspirational speeches to various university, mili- 
tary, and Baath Party audiences. Whereas Syria had pursued a 
policy of attempting to match unilaterally Israel's military capa- 
bility since the 1978 Camp David Agreements between Israel and 
Egypt, Assad ambitiously expanded the concept of strategic parity 
with Israel to include the political, demographic, social, educational, 
economic, and military spheres. 

Simultaneously, for the first time in his presidency, Assad began 
to promote a personality cult. Praise and panegyric for his presi- 
dency dominated the media, which compared him to President 
Nasser and called Assad the "new Saladin." Also, the government 
organized massive demonstrations in Assad's support. In one such 
rally, enthusiastic crowds carried his limousine through the streets 
of Damascus. Assad's twenty-six-year-old son, Basil, who had previ- 
ously been hidden from the public spotlight, suddenly was given 
a higher public profile and started training to become an air force 
officer, leading to speculation that he was being groomed to inherit 
the presidency and that an Assad dynasty would be established. 

To prove to Syrian citizens that the government was function- 
ing normally, in January 1985 (after a two-year delay), the Baath 
Party convened its first congress since 1980. The most important 
item on the agenda was the election of a new Regional Command. 
Assad retained his position at the helm of the party, party Assis- 
tant Secretary General Abdallah al Ahmar and Vice President for 
Party Affairs Zuhayr Mashariqa kept the second and third slots 
in the hierarchy, and Vice President Abd al Halim Khaddam was 
put in the fourth position. Rifaat al Assad was put in the fifth 
position; however, three of his principal allies — one-time Interior 
Minister Nasir ad Din Nasir, Security Chief Ahmad Diab, and 
party official Ilyas al Lati — were banished from the inner circle 
of power; in fact, these men were the only Regional Command 
members not re-elected. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hikmat 
Shihabi, the front man in the military's confrontation with Rifaat 
in 1984, remained in sixteenth place. 

At the congress, Assad's keynote speech set the tone when he 
adhered to a hard line on Syria's regional aspirations, the 


Government and Politics 

Palestinian issue, the military balance with Israel, and the Lebanese 
situation. Assad's emphasis on foreign affairs deflected attention 
from the still-turbulent domestic situation, focusing instead on 
undeniable Syrian successes in using its military power to attain 
regional political goals (see National Security Doctrine and Con- 
cerns, ch. 5). Syria's ascendant regional power was underlined by 
visits by regional clients, proxies, and allies, who came to Damas- 
cus to pay homage to President Assad. At the congress, George 
Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Pales- 
tine, and Khalid al Fahoum of the Palestine National Council 
represented the pro-Syria Palestinians. Lebanese leaders Walid 
Jumblatt, Nabih Berri, and Mahdi Shams ad Din were also in 
attendance, as was Libyan vice premier Abdul Salam Jallud. 

The delegates to the congress endorsed Syria's continued mili- 
tary buildup, but in doing so, they faced the classic choice between 
guns and butter. Syria's economy was faltering under a stagger- 
ing burden of military expenditure that consumed at least one-third 
of the budget (see Budget, ch. 3). To deal with the problem, the 
delegates rubber-stamped Assad's controversial initiative to modify. 
Syria's statist approach to economic planning and liberalize the 
private sector. Taking their cue from Assad's crackdown on mili- 
tary smuggling, the delegates also voiced blunt criticism of the 
widespread high-level government corruption, patronage, and 
bribery, which hampered economic development. Such corruption 
was so pervasive that the Syrian government was described as a 
"kleptocracy. " Many delegates confessed to being guilty of 
corruption, and a number of officials were dismissed from their 

There had been speculation that Assad would withdraw his can- 
didacy or postpone his re-election when his second seven-year term 
expired in March. However, Assad felt enough confidence in his 
position to hold a referendum on February 10, 1985. Assad won 
approval in the yes-or-no vote by the predictable nearly unanimous 
total of over 99.97 percent. 

In a further display of confidence, Assad announced that as a 
result of contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood's "vanguard 
organization" in Western Europe, the government had decided 
to pardon and grant amnesty to former members of the opposi- 
tion. Accordingly, over 500 Muslim Brotherhood members were 
freed from Syrian prisons. 

On April 8, Assad formed a new cabinet. Perhaps the most sig- 
nificant appointment was that of Muhammad Imadi as minister 
of economy and foreign trade. Because Imadi was a recognized 
proponent of free market economics, the Syrian private sector 


Syria: A Country Study 

regarded his appointment as heralding a liberalization of Syria's 
planned socialist economy. 

As a whole, Assad's shake-up of the Syrian power elite and his 
rearrangement of the military and the Baath Party effected signifi- 
cant changes in Syria's domestic political apparatus. Some editorials 
exuberantly referred to the new changes as representing a revolu- 
tionary "second corrective movement," a sequel to the Correc- 
tive Movement in 1970 when Assad first took power. 

The government tried to conduct business as usual in 1986. Elec- 
tions were held for the People's Council, with approximately 2 mil- 
lion of the 5.3 million eligible voters participating. The Baath Party 
won 129 of the 195 seats. The other parties in the NPF won fifty- 
seven seats. The SCP, which had not been represented in the previ- 
ous People's Council, won nine seats. The number of women in 
the assembly grew from twelve to eighteen. 

However, in March and April 1986, terrorist bombings in Syria 
shattered the tranquillity that the Assad regime had been trying 
to restore. These attacks, and other recurrent internal and exter- 
nal threats, revealed the permeability of Syria's borders and the 
inextricable link between Syria's internal security and its foreign 
policy. The relative stability in Damascus in early 1987 appeared 
to many Syrians to be no more than the calm at the eye of the storm. 

Political Orientations 

Attitudes Toward Politics, Political Parties, and Government 

At gatherings in Syria, politics is often the chief topic of conver- 
sation; the Middle Eastern stereotype of fervent political coffee- 
house discussions applies in part to Syria. Politics absorbs much 
of the active energy of the Syrian male. Most Syrians have strong 
opinions about what is wrong in Damascus or in their subdistrict 
centers and about what should be done. Urban Syrians, whether 
wealthy or poor, educated or illiterate, talk of political personali- 
ties and the central government. Rural Syrians talk of local politi- 
cal personalities, agricultural problems, and local politics. However, 
public criticism of the regime is muted and circumspect. Among 
the tribes and in more isolated villages, political discussion exists, 
but primarily on the basis of relations between villagers or tribes. 

Political energy generally has been channeled toward clandes- 
tine opposition to the government in power and surreptitious criti- 
cism of other political forces and even other members of one's own 
political group, rather than toward active party participation. There 
are two reasons for this. First, few political parties have attempted 
to gain broad membership; many have been mere collections of 


Government and Politics 

prominent personalities without organization below the top cen- 
tral committees. Second, -most citizens have questioned the efficacy 
of party activity as a means to political ends and personal advance- 
ment. The fortunes of political parties have been uncertain; some 
party members have been exiled or have gone to jail if the party 
has lost power. Consequently, persons with political ambitions often 
preferred to operate as independents rather than affiliate with a 

Popular awareness of broader issues has expanded substantially 
in recent years as a result of radio broadcasts and the expanding 
press, both of which have remained under the jurisdiction of the 
Ministry of Information. Headed in 1987 by Yassin Rajjuh, the 
ministry played a key role in the dissemination of information and, 
through editorials, the formulation of public opinion. The minis- 
try censored the domestic and foreign press, controlled radio and 
television networks, and published newspapers and magazines. It 
supervised the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the country's 
only domestic news service, and the Al Baath publishing house, 
which printed Al Baath, the organ of the ruling Baath Party and 
the nation's most widely circulated daily newspaper, and At Talia 
(The Vanguard), the fortnightly magazine of the Baath Party. Other 
major dailies included Ath Thawrah (The Revolution), and Tishrin 
(October, named after the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War) in 
Damascus; Al Jamahir al Arabiyya (The Arab Masses) in Aleppo; 
and Al Fida 3 (The Sacrificer) in Hamah. The Ministry of Defense 
published the magazine Jaysh ash Shaab (The People's Army). 

In Syria, individuals interested in politics have historically had 
limited means of expressing opinion. Often frustrated, they have 
seized upon the most direct means available of registering opposi- 
tion: strikes, demonstrations, personal conflicts with politicians, 
and even, at times, violence and assassination. The method used 
most frequently is the demonstration, which has often led to rioting. 

Industrial workers, merchants, farmers, and other groups have 
all used demonstrations to demand or protest government actions. 
Although demonstrations have not always been successful in achiev- 
ing the aims of the instigators, they have served as useful barome- 
ters of public opinion. The skill of the Baath Party in initiating 
demonstrations was an important factor in the party's rise to power. 
The government has tolerated spontaneous public demonstrations, 
but more often it has stage-managed large public rallies in sup- 
port of its policies. 

Most Syrians have a strong libertarian streak and are wary of 
any government. This suspicion has been most pronounced in rural 
areas, where authority has been represented in the person of a tax 


Syria: A Country Study 

collector or policeman. Moreover, government officials were usually 
townspeople, and members of villages and tribes felt that urban 
officials did not understand their problems and were condescend- 
ing. Government officials often contributed to this attitude by posing 
as patrons or masters of the rural population. Indeed, urban offi- 
cials still refer to prosperous peasants as "kulaks." As a result, 
any government effort to assist villagers or tribesmen was apt to 
be met, at least initially, with an uncooperative attitude. 

Although distrust of the government has been less intense in 
urban centers, it has existed there as well. Regional jealousies have 
played a part in the lack of trust. People of Aleppo, Horns, and 
Hamah have felt that politicians in Damascus were primarily 
interested in maintaining the ascendancy of the national capital 
over the provincial capitals. Nevertheless, townspeople attach con- 
siderable prestige to holding a government position. 

After 1958 the negative attitude of townspeople and villagers 
toward government began to diminish as people became increas- 
ingly aware that government could be an instrument for satisfy- 
ing some of their needs. Successive governments attempted to 
bolster this process with a constant barrage of propaganda aimed 
at creating trust and building loyalty, not only to the government 
as a social institution but to the particular regime in Damascus. 
The regimes appealed to citizens on the basis of economic self- 
interest, as well as on the broader and more emotional grounds 
of Arab and Syrian nationalism. The appeals found a wide and 
enthusiastic response, although the individual citizen incurred 
few obligations or duties that would test the sincerity of the 

Concepts of Nationalism, Unity, and the Arab Nation 

Because it entails definition of where the national boundaries 
should be drawn, nationalism is a controversial concept for Syrians. 
Shortly after independence, most Syrians retained a strong ethno- 
centrism based on the city or region where they were born and 
grew up; they owed their first allegiance to their tribe, clan, or ethnic 
group, rather than to the new nation-state. Over the years, these 
forces have diminished, but not disappeared, and now nearly all 
Syrians manifest an intense patriotism, coupled with a strong desire 
for the recovery of what they feel are integral areas of Syria split 
off from the nation by French Mandate authorities. A small 
minority of Syrians, however, have not been assimilated into the 
Syrian identity. For example, beduin in eastern Syria feel a strong 
affinity for their neighbors in Iraq and Jordan, and some Christi- 
ans and Druzes look for guidance to their coreligionists in Lebanon. 


Government and Politics 

The Syrian government has never recognized the legality of Tur- 
key's possession of Hatay Province, which was the Syrian province 
of Iskenderun until it was ceded to Turkey by France in 1939. 
Syrian maps still describe the Syrian-Turkish frontier at Iskende- 
run as a "temporary border." The Syrian attitude toward Leba- 
non is more ambivalent: Syria officially recognizes Lebanon's de 
jure existence but has refused to open formal diplomatic relations. 
Syria feels justified in exerting hegemony over Lebanon and 
ensuring that it remains a Syrian satellite. In fact, since 1976 Syria 
has virtually annexed parts of Lebanon. Finally, Syria views the 
recovery of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights as a national pri- 
ority. Syrian citizens support their government's policy toward these 
three areas almost unanimously. 

Many Syrians advocate the more far-reaching goal of restoring 
Greater Syria. Adherents of this concept believe Syria should 
encompass the entire Levant, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel 
or Palestine. The Greater Syria concept was formulated in response 
to a centuries-old, and now quiescent, Middle Eastern dynamic 
in which Iraq and Egypt traditionally vied for dominance over the 
Arab heartland between the Euphrates and the Nile rivers. The 
Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), which is banned in Syria 
but has numerous surreptitious supporters, has made the quest for 
a Greater Syria the cornerstone of its ideology; the SSNP also 
includes Cyprus as a part of Greater Syria. Although it bears the 
word Syrian in its title, the SSNP was, ironically, actually estab- 
lished in Lebanon and has become a Syrian proxy force in that 

At a broader level, Baath Party ideology reflects the viewpoint 
of many Syrian citizens in championing pan-Arab nationalism and 
proposing unification of all Arab countries into one Arab nation 
stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, transcend- 
ing what are regarded as arbitrary and artificial borders drawn by 
Ottoman or European colonial rulers. However, this vision of Arab 
unity has not been limited to Baathists. Arab unity was the clarion 
call of most Arab nationalists during the struggles against Euro- 
pean colonialism after World War I. Baathist ideology differs from 
this older sentiment in making socialism an integral element of pan- 
Arab nationalism. 

Although most Syrians support pan-Arabism, some view it nega- 
tively. In many respects, the notion of pan- Arab nationalism con- 
tradicts Syrian nationalism because Syria would be subsumed in 
the larger entity and its identity subordinated to that of the new 
superstate. Aware of this paradox, Syrian officials reserve for Syria 
a special place in their Utopian ideal as the "beating heart" of 


Syria: A Country Study 

the Arab nation. However, Syrian religious minorities fear that 
extreme pan-Arab nationalism would entail Islamic fundamental- 
ism because Islam is an important common denominator of many 
Arabs and a potential vehicle for uniting the Arab countries. There- 
fore, religious minorities, particularly Christians, have stridently 
resisted proposed unification with other Arab nations, while at the 
same time supporting the notion of a Greater Syria, which includes 
Lebanon and other areas with a large Christian population. Some 
minorities oppose unification; for example, Kurds and Assyrians 
in northeastern Syria have vivid memories of persecution in Iraq, 
from which they sought refuge in Syria, and naturally oppose being 
brought again under Iraqi jurisdiction. 

Because using Islam as the defining criterion of Arabism is preju- 
dicial to minorities, Syrians have instead emphasized the common 
cultural heritage of all Arabs. Specifically, the Arabic language is 
perceived as the root of Arab nationalism. Additionally, the nearly 
universal antipathy toward Zionism is another factor around which 
Arabs can rally, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. 

This secular rather than religious emphasis has succeeded to the 
extent that religious minorities have often been in the forefront of 
Arab nationalist drives. Nevertheless, much of the appeal of Arab 
nationalism among uneducated or rural citizens has a strong Islamic 
component. Such people look to an Arab nation that re-creates the 
Islamic empire, or Dar al Islam, prescribed by the Quran and 
achieved under the Umayyad dynasty based in Damascus. 

In any case, pan-Arab unity is a moot issue in Syria, an ideal 
rather than a practical policy. Syria's unification with Egypt in the 
UAR proved unpalatable to Syrian politicians. Although since 1980 
Syria has been officially united with Libya and has studied merger 
with Jordan and Iraq, unification in these cases is simply a euphe- 
mism for what would be a regular alliance between autonomous 
nations elsewhere in the world. However, Syria has also been adept 
at wielding Arab unity as a propaganda weapon. When other Arab 
countries pressured Syria to improve relations with its enemy Iraq 
in 1986, it acquiesced in conducting negotiations but demanded 
complete and total unification. Iraq, as expected, rejected this 
proposal, giving Syria the moral high ground of appearing to favor 
pan-Arab unity. 

Attitudes Toward Foreign Ideologies and Systems 

Whatever their background, Syrians generally distrust foreign- 
ers on initial contact, although this wariness wanes over time. Syrian 
rejection of foreign ideologies and systems, especially those of the 
West, has deep historical roots. Muslim scholars divide the world 


Government and Politics 

into two realms: the Dar al Islam, the realm of Islam, and the Dar 
al Harb, the realm of warfare inhabited by infidels. It is in theory 
incumbent upon M-uslims to convert the latter into the former, by 
persuasion if possible, by conquest if necessary (see Muslims, ch. 2). 
Moreover, Islam stipulates that Muslim nations cannot enter into 
peace agreements with nations of the Dar al Harb, only temporary 
truces, a distinction that causes disputes in translating peace treaties. 
Although few contemporary Syrians espouse such a categorical 
worldview, Syrian politicians do invoke the medieval Crusaders' 
invasion of the Dar al Islam to arouse nationalism and compare 
it to more modern European intervention in the area. Further- 
more, the long periods of colonial control and exploitation 
of Syria by Ottoman Turks and the French are well remem- 

Indignation and a deep-seated sense of injustice are common 
among Syrians, who feel their country has been betrayed by 
European powers, which Syria, to its chagrin, must nevertheless 
emulate or solicit for development aid. Added to this sense of 
betrayal is an acute realization of Syrian's economic and social 
underdevelopment in comparison with modern industrialized 
nations, to which underdevelopment the Syrians attribute the suc- 
cession of military defeats by Israel since 1948. Syrians find their 
country's underdevelopment is especially painful because they are 
aware that Syria was the ancient cradle of civilization and, during 
the Umayyad era, the world's preeminent empire. 

These sentiments gave birth to a new, indigenous ideology of 
Arab renaissance and resurrection and the rejection of foreign ideol- 
ogies. Although Syrian political parties were influenced by Western 
models, the first generation of Syrian political leaders sought to 
establish their nationalist credentials by dissociating themselves from 
French colonialism. Therefore, they avoided or denied the similari- 
ties between their new political parties and those of the West. In 
addition, although communism has a distinct political constituency 
in Syria, it is not popular among radical nationalists because of 
its non-Arab origin and its atheism, which offends traditionalists. 
However, the Soviet Union, having played little or no part in the 
historic reasons for the rejection of the West and having actively 
supported Syria and the Arab cause against Israel, is accepted as 
friendly, as are the East European states and China. However, Syria 
has attempted to adhere to a nonaligned foreign policy with regard 
to the East- West confrontation, and in recent years it has tempered 
its strident anti-Westernism with growing tolerance and pragmatic 


Syria: A Country Study 

Foreign Policy 

Regional Foreign Relations 

In 1987 Syria's policy toward the superpowers and its Middle 
Eastern neighbors, as well as much of its domestic politics, con- 
tinued to be affected profoundly by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Because 
of the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Agreements, periodic 
Jordanian-Israeli mutual accommodation, and Israeli domination 
of southern Lebanon, Syria perceived itself as the last Arab con- 
frontation state to share a border with Israel. Syria believed that 
the Arab-Israeli conflict had been reduced to a bilateral Syrian- 
Israeli conflict, in which other parties, including the Palestinians, 
were marginal. 

Recovering the Golan Heights from Israel was the specific motive 
of Syria's policy, but it was only a part of a broader ambition of 
regional hegemony. Therefore, Syria's goal was to prevent Jor- 
dan, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), or Lebanon 
from formalizing Syria's isolation by entering into piecemeal set- 
tlements with Israel, while Syria simultaneously undermined 
Egypt's separate peace with Israel. Syria has declared that the Arab 
nations could extract maximum concessions from Israel only by 
acting in concert, a policy some regional observers refer to as the 
"Assad Doctrine." Implicit in the Assad Doctrine is the assump- 
tion that Damascus will orchestrate Arab negotiations. Syria's cen- 
tral role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, therefore, is predicated to some 
extent on the older ideology of Greater Syria, the notion that Syria 
should dominate its Arab neighbors. 

Syria perceived regional politics in bipolar terms, dividing the 
Arab world into two camps: the rejectionist front of Syrian allies, 
and the capitulationists who advocated concessions to Israel. 
However, Syria's categorical classification of the Arab world seemed 
only to highlight its regional isolation. Syria's only partners in the 
"Arab Steadfastness and Confrontation Front" were Libya, 
Algeria, and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South 


As of 1987, Syria had successfully vetoed its neighbors' peace 
initiatives and constructed a credible unilateral military deterrent 
to Israel. It had also outlined its position on potential multilateral 
negotiated solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Syria had accepted 
United Nations Security Council Resolution 338 of October 22, 
1973, and indicated that such acceptance implied acceptance of Reso- 
lution 242, which was adopted after the June 1967 War. However, 


Government and Politics 

in 1986 Damascus suggested a willingness to negotiate only a state 
of "nonbelligerency" with Israel, not a comprehensive peace treaty. 
Whereas Resolution 242 specifically requires Arab recognition of 
Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, 
Resolution 338 more generally calls for negotiations between the 
parties concerned "under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing 
a just and durable peace in the Middle East." Although Resolu- 
tion 338 does, in fact, call on the parties to start implementation 
of Resolution 242, it does not spell out in its text Arab recognition 
of Israel's right to exist. Although the distinction appears to be 
semantic, Syria's refusal to endorse Resolution 242 without reser- 
vation remained a block to Syrian participation in Middle East 
peace negotiations. Syria has indicated that it would accept Reso- 
lution 242 only if Israel first withdrew from occupied Arab territory 
and guaranteed Palestinian rights. At the same time, some Syrian 
propagandists have maintained the more intransigent definition 
of the entire state of Israel, rather than the areas seized by Israel 
in the June 1967 War only, as occupied Arab territory. When the 
Israeli Knesset voted in December 1981 to permanently annex the 
Golan Heights, Syria perceived the action as a renunciation of Reso- 
lution 242 and the "land for peace" formula for resolution of the 
Middle East conflict. In 1987 Syria viewed Resolution 242 as a 
virtually obsolete framework for a settlement. 

Instead, Syria advocated the implementation of the Fez Reso- 
lutions that were sponsored by Saudi Arabia at the Arab Summit 
at Fez, Morocco, in 1982. The Fez Resolutions demand settlement 
of the Arab-Israeli dispute at an international conference to be 
attended by representatives of all Arab governments, Israel, the 
PLO, and both superpowers. 

Although Syria wants involvement in such diplomatic initiatives, 
it has increasingly less faith that a negotiated, peaceful resolution 
of the Middle East conflict will fulfill its demands. Accordingly, 
Syria has come to rely more heavily on the hope that its military 
will ultimately secure its objectives or, at the least, act as a credi- 
ble deterrent to future Israeli aggression. The Syrian-Israeli com- 
bat in Lebanon in 1982 increased Syrian confidence in confronting 
Israel on the battlefield. Although the Syrian armed forces lost men 
and military materiel, they performed well in several crucial 
engagements (see Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, 1975-87, ch. 5). 

Throughout 1985 and 1986, Syria and Israel engaged in brink- 
manship and saber rattling, as Syria brandished its new military 
strength. For example, Syria deployed some of the troops it had 
withdrawn from Lebanon to the Golan Heights. Then, on Novem- 
ber 19, 1985, Israel shot down two Syrian MiG-23 jets inside Syrian 


Syria: A Country Study 

airspace. In December Syria retaliated by deploying mobile air 
defense missiles to Lebanon. Although the missiles posed an iden- 
tical tactical threat to Israeli reconnaissance flights over Lebanon 
whether they were stationed in Syria or just across the border, Israel 
regarded the move as a challenge to a long-standing tacit under- 
standing that such missiles, if located in Lebanon, would be sub- 
ject to Israeli attack. Syria withdrew the missiles within several 
weeks after the United States interceded and mediated the dispute. 
On February 4, 1986, Israel intercepted and forced down a Libyan 
executive jet, en route from Tripoli to Damascus, which was car- 
rying Baath Party assistant secretary general Abdallah al Ahmar 
and other senior Syrian politicians. Israel had ostensibly been 
searching for Palestinian terrorists, but Syria viewed the intercep- 
tion as a deliberate provocation and an act of air piracy. Finally, 
in May 1986. it was revealed that Syria had built revetments and 
entrenched fortifications in Lebanon that faced Israel. Although 
the construction was defensive, Israel viewed it as enhancing Syria's 
potentially offensive position on the Golan Heights. 

To underscore Syria's increasing belligerence, in an important 
speech delivered to the People's Council in February 1986, Assad 
departed from his usually calm demeanor by declaring that Syria 
would work to put the Golan Heights "in the middle of Syria and 
not on its borders." Assad was engaging in hyperbole and exag- 
gerating Syria's true intentions. Nevertheless, in 1987 most Syrian 
and Israeli officials believed that, because of the two countries' 
irreconcilable conflicts, the outbreak of war was inevitable in the 
future; some felt it to be in the distant future, while a minority, 
cognizant of the escalation of tensions in 1985 and 1986, believed 
it to be imminent. 


Consistent with the Assad Doctrine, Syria stridently and suc- 
cessfully opposed the May 17, 1983, accord between Israel and 
Lebanon that would have normalized relations between the two 
countries. The February 26, 1984, withdrawal of United States 
Marines from Beirut, the June 1985 phased Israeli retreat from 
Lebanon, and the abrogation by the Lebanese government of the 
accord left Syria the dominant foreign power in Lebanon. 

Emboldened by these victories, Syria attempted to capitalize on 
its position and impose a "Pax Syriana" on Lebanon. On Decem- 
ber 28, 1985, it summoned representatives of three of Lebanon's 
factions — the Christians, Shias, and Druzes — to Damascus to sign 
the Tripartite Accord. The Tripartite Accord was essentially a new 
Lebanese constitution, drafted by Syria, that called for the 


Government and Politics 

elimination of the old confessional formula and replaced it with 
a new system of majority rule and minority representation. The 
Tripartite Accord guaranteed Lebanese sovereignty and indepen- 
dence. However, Chapter 4 of the accord stressed that Lebanon 
"must not allow itself to be the gateway through which Israel can 
deliver any blow to Syria" and called for "strategic integration" 
between Syria and Lebanon. The Syrian blueprint for Lebanon's 
future thus sustained Syrian suzerainty over Lebanese security 
affairs and sanctioned the continued deployment of Syrian troops 
in Lebanon. However, Syria's ambitious initiative failed when the 
Lebanese Christian community rebelled against the agreement and 
ousted Elie Hobeika, the Christian signatory. 

As a result, Syria reverted to its previous policy toward Leba- 
non, a balancing act that it had pursued since its 1976 interven- 
tion in the civil war. The reinfiltration of PLO guerrillas into 
southern Lebanon and the reappearance of Israeli advisers in Chris- 
tian East Beirut indicated that Lebanon was reverting to a situa- 
tion similar to that before the 1982 Israeli invasion, and battle lines 
were being drawn for a rematch. 


The February 1985 agreement between King Hussein of Jor- 
dan and Yasir Arafat of the PLO to form a joint delegation to 
negotiate with Israel was anathema to Syrian policy as outlined 
in the Assad Doctrine. Consequently, Syria exerted strong politi- 
cal pressure on Jordan to change its stance. For example, observ- 
ers accused Syria of unleashing dissident Palestinian terrorists of 
the Abu Nidal organization, which it controlled, against Jordanian 
targets in retaliation for Jordan's pursiSit of an independent policy. 
Syria also spread propaganda to persuade Jordanians that their king 
was giving in to Israeli demands without getting concessions from 
Israel. Syria also convinced other Arab rulers that Jordan was 
treacherously dealing with Israel. Within a year, Syria seemed to 
have succeeded in weaning Jordan from the moderate camp and 
bringing it into the Syrian sphere. 

The December 30, 1985, visit by King Hussein to Damascus 
marked the end of seven years of unremitting hostility between the 
two nations. In conformity with the Assad Doctrine, Jordan 
renounced "partial, separate, and direct talks with Israel" and 
issued an abject apology and admission of guilt for having harbored 
and supported anti-Syrian Muslim Brotherhood terrorists in the 
early 1980s (see Ethnic and Religious Opposition Movements, 
ch. 5). 


A Palestinian 
refugee camp in Syria 
Courtesy UNRWA, photo 
by Sue Herrick Cranmer 

The Palestinians 

In another move consistent with the Assad Doctrine, Syria con- 
tinued its attempts to control the Palestinian movement and to 
prevent any Palestinian-Israeli agreement. Accordingly, Syria spon- 
sored the creation of the Palestine National Salvation Front, head- 
quartered in Damascus, an umbrella organization comprising 
Palestinian splinter organizations that rejected any compromise with 
Israel. Syria supported these groups as proxy forces against Arafat's 
more moderate PLO, which had joined with Jordan to explore pos- 
sible negotiations with Israel. In mid- 1986 Syrian and PLO lead- 
ers met with inconclusive results to negotiate a reconciliation; such 
a rapprochement, however, would necessarily entail a return of 
the PLO to the rejectionist camp and its subservience to Syrian 

Iran and Iraq 

Syrian support of Iran in the Iran-Iraq War and its enmity toward 
Iraq was modified in 1986. The Syrian-Iranian alliance had been 
cemented with a March 1982 economic accord that provided for 
shipments of subsidized Iranian oil to Syria, at which time Syria 
closed Iraq's oil pipeline through Syrian territory. Syria's support 
for Iran was not a reflection of any ideological affinity between 
Assad's regime and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic 


Government and Politics 

fundamentalism but rather an instance of pragmatic politics. It 
seemed to illustrate the Arab saying that "the enemy of my enemy 
is my friend." Syria supported Iran because Iraq had been Syria's 
implacable foe for decades. Moreover, Syria's alliance with Iran 
allowed it to exert control over pro-Iranian Shia forces in Leba- 
non and use them as a proxy force to impose Syrian designs there. 
In supporting Iran, Syria broke ranks once again with a nearly 
unanimous Arab opinion favoring Iraq. 

However, although Syria wanted Iraq weakened and neutral- 
ized, it did not envision the installation in Baghdad of a pro-Iranian 
fundamentalist Shia regime. As the beleaguered Iraqi regime lost 
ground to advancing Iranian forces, Assad stated in October 1986 
that Syria could not accept the occupation of Iraqi land by any- 
one. Subsequently, Syrian and Iraqi officials met to explore the 
possibility of restoring relations. Assad's statement may have 
prompted the temporary kidnapping, the following day, of the 
Syrian charge d'affaires in Tehran. Later in October, Assad met 
in Damascus with Iranian minister of the Revolutionary Guards 
Muhsin Rafiq-Dost to repair Syrian-Iranian relations. Rafiq-Dost 
stated that the Syrians had announced their resolute support of Iran 
until the downfall of the Iraqi regime and the "liberation of Iraq." 
However, Syria did not affirm the Iranian statement, and in early 
1987, Syrian support for Iran appeared to be qualified. 

Syrian-United States Relations 

Over the years, United States-Syrian bilateral relations ranged 
between grudging mutual accommodation and outright mutual 
hostility. But even when the relationship was strained severely, the 
fundamental United States policy toward Syria with regard to the 
broader Arab-Israeli conflict has remained consistent. The United 
States endorses United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, 
the implementation of which would entail the return of the Israeli- 
annexed Golan Heights to Syrian control. 

For its part, Syria has often vehemently criticized American policy 
in the Middle East. At the same time, however, it has recognized 
that Resolution 242 contains provisions in its favor. Syria has been 
willing to negotiate with the United States over the Arab-Israeli 
conflict and other regional issues, as long as the diplomacy is con- 
ducted quietly and behind the scenes. Syria has also adhered 
scrupulously to the commitments and promises it has made to 
American negotiators. 

Since the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 
the 1950s, the United States has strongly supported Israel but has 
simultaneously indicated, particularly after the October 1973 War, 


Syria: A Country Study 

that it acknowledges the legitimacy of some of Syria's grievances 
against Israel. In the aftermath of Israel's attack on Syrian forces 
in Lebanon in 1982, the United States was forced to choose between 
irreconcilable Israeli and Syrian ambitions in Lebanon; the adminis- 
tration of Ronald Reagan chose to endorse the Israeli position. 
President Reagan supported the May 17, 1983, Lebanese-Israeli 
accords and linked this peace treaty to his attempts to revive the 
Arab-Israeli peace process. However, Syria stymied the Reagan 
initiative, in part by inciting opposition to American policies among 
its surrogates and proxies in Lebanon. The United States also sus- 
pected Syria of having played a role in attacks on the United States 
Embassy and on the Marine barracks in Beirut. Although the degree 
of Syrian complicity was never determined, American officials 
believed that Syria at least had foreknowledge of and acquiesced 
in the attacks (see Sponsorship of Terrorism, ch. 5). Syrian-United 
States relations reached their nadir in December 1983, when the 
two nations engaged in near warfare. On December 4, United States 
carrier-based warplanes attacked Syrian antiaircraft installations 
in Lebanon's Biqa Valley (two were shot down), and on Decem- 
ber 13 and 14, United States battleships shelled Syrian positions. 
From a military viewpoint, the clashes were not highly significant. 
However, they marked the first American-Syrian armed conflict 
and reinforced Syria's view of the United States regional policy 
as gunboat diplomacy. 

In June 1985, Syrian-United States relations improved dramat- 
ically when Syria interceded on behalf of the United States after 
the hijacking to Beirut of Trans World Airlines flight 847. Reagan 
expressed his appreciation of Syria's role in securing release of the 
hostages, albeit in guarded language. Yet to some observers Syria's 
ability to impose its will on the hijackers confirmed Syrian links 
to terrorism. Although Syria had been accused repeatedly of sup- 
porting Palestinian terrorism against American, West European, 
and Israeli targets in the Middle East and in Western Europe, there 
had been little evidence, much less proof, of direct Syrian com- 
plicity in terrorist attacks against Western targets. 

However, when a Jordanian, Nizar Hindawi, was apprehended 
on April 17, 1986, after attempting to smuggle a bomb aboard an 
Israeli El Al Airlines plane in London, he confessed that Syrian 
intelligence officers had masterminded the abortive attack and that 
Syria had provided him with the training, logistical support, and 
explosives to carry out the plot. Britain reportedly collected evi- 
dence that corroborated Hindawi' s story. As a consequence, on 
May 6, 1986, Vice President George Bush said of Syria, "We are 
convinced their fingerprints have been on international terrorist 


Government and Politics 

acts," and on November 14, 1986, the United States imposed sanc- 
tions on Syria "in response to Syria's continued support for inter- 
national terrorism." The White House, however, also stated that 
"Syria can play an important role in a key region of the world, 
but it cannot expect to be accepted as a responsible power or treated 
as one as long as it continues to use terrorism as an instrument 
of its foreign policy." 

In these statements, the United States censured Syria for spon- 
soring terrorism but also implied recognition of Syria's potentially 
central role in the Middle East. Ever since Secretary of State Henry 
Kissinger's first visit to Damascus in December 1973, Assad has 
attempted to persuade successive American administrations of the 
truth of the old adage "There can be no war in the Middle East 
without Egypt, but there can be no peace in the Middle East without 
Syria." Assad sought to convince the United States that Syria, 
however intransigent its negotiating stance, should not be ignored 
in any comprehensive Middle East peace treaty because it could 
resume war with Israel and therefore exert veto power over an Arab- 
Israeli settlement. At the same time, however, Assad was convinced 
that the United States was indispensable in any Middle East peace 
because only the United States could force Israel to make conces- 
sions to the Arabs. 

Syrian-Soviet Relations 

In 1987 the relationship between Syria and the Soviet Union 
appeared to be close and deep. Syria was clearly favored among 
Soviet client states in the Third World. For over twenty years, Syria 
had obtained most of its military equipment from the Soviet Union. 
In addition, there was a large Soviet military presence in Syria; 
by mid- 1984 there were an estimated 13,000 Soviet and East 
European advisers in Syria. However, many of these advisers were 
withdrawn in 1985 during a dispute so that in 1986 between 2,000 
and 5,000 remained. 

Syrian-Soviet relations were upgraded and formalized in the 
Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Assad in Moscow 
in October 1980. The treaty runs for twenty years and has auto- 
matic five-year extensions, unless one of the parties terminates the 
agreement. It provides for regular consultations on bilateral and 
multilateral issues of interest, coordination of responses in the event 
of a crisis, and military cooperation. 

A secret protocol to the treaty reputedly details Soviet military 
obligations to Syria and may mandate the dispatch of Soviet troops 
to Syria in case of an Israeli invasion. Syrian defense minister Tlas 
warned in 1984 that the Soviet Union would dispatch two Soviet 


Syria: A Country Study 

airborne divisions to Syria within eight hours in the event of a con- 
flict with Israel. Tlas has also stated that the Soviet Union would 
use nuclear weapons to protect Syria. Tlas' statements, however, 
were not endorsed by the Soviet Union. Syrian-Soviet nuclear 
cooperation is limited to a February 1983 agreement for coopera- 
tion and exchange for peaceful purposes. 

Although the Syrian-Soviet relationship is close, Syria is not a 
Soviet proxy, and the Soviet Union has gained little leverage over 
Syrian domestic and regional policy in return for its military sup- 
port. Although Syria may be aligned with the Soviet Union, its 
basic orientation is toward the West. Syrian leaders have little 
affinity with communism, and Moscow has been powerless to pre- 
vent Syrian repression of the SCP. Syria's pursuit of independent 
policies has caused considerable friction with the Soviet Union. 
Examples of Syrian intransigence include its 1983 rebuff of Soviet 
requests for a naval base at the port of Tartus and its deviation 
from Moscow with regard to the Palestinian issue. 

Former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov appeared to be a staunch 
advocate of Syria, and the Soviet Union acquiesced to many of 
Syria's demands. However, after Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded 
Konstantin Chernenko in March 1985, the Soviet Union reassessed 
its relationship with Syria. Assad made a brief visit to Moscow in 
May 1985 and restated Syria's plea for a stronger Soviet military 
commitment. However, the Soviet leadership reprimanded him for 
Syria's hostility toward the PLO and Iraq and reminded him that 
Syria was not its only Middle Eastern ally. In June 1985, Assad 
again met Gorbachev in Moscow to debate the Palestinian issue, 
but there was no resolution. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets with- 
drew a significant number of their military advisers from Syria. 
In early 1987, it was not known whether Assad expelled the Soviet 
advisers in retaliation for his cold reception in Moscow or whether 
the withdrawal occurred at Soviet behest; however, the strain in 
relations was clear. Syria's persistent refusal to accede to Soviet 
desires regarding the PLO was becoming a test case of the relative 
power of the patron state and its client. At the same time, the Soviet 
Union could not afford to appear to abandon Syria. 

In May 1986, Gorbachev renewed Soviet promises to supply 
Syria with military equipment and excoriated Israeli and Ameri- 
can pressure on Syria. Yet Gorbachev, unlike his predecessors, 
appeared prepared to pressure Syria for concessions in return for 
Soviet military aid. Gorbachev expected Syria to support his 
embryonic new agenda for the Middle East, which revived the 


Government and Politics 

long-standing Soviet plan for an international Middle East peace 
conference attended by all parties, including Israel. 

* * * 

Most information on Syria is fragmentary or impressionistic. 
Moreover, primary source material is in Arabic, although much 
of it has been translated by the United States Joint Publications 
Research Service. Scholarly books on Syrian internal politics are 
few, and although journalistic accounts are more numerous, they 
generally focus on Syrian foreign policy. However, published 
materials have increased in the 1980s and provide an adequate basis 
for an informed understanding of the country. Because Syria's high 
profile in Middle Eastern events has sparked renewed scholarly 
interest in the country, a considerable number of new books about 
Syria are due for publication in 1987 and 1988. For those interested 
in gaining further insight into Syria politics, the following works 
offer varied and broad perspectives: Syria: Modern State in an Ancient 
Land by John F. Devlin; Syria under Assad, an anthology edited by 
Moshe Ma'oz and Avner Yaniv; The Islamic Struggle in Syria by Umar 
F. Abd- Allah; Linkage Politics in the Middle East: Syria Between Domestic 
and External Conflict, 1961-1970 by Yaacov Bar-Simon-Tov; The 
Ba'ath and Syria, 1947-1982: The Evolution of Ideology, Party, and State 
by Robert W. Olson; and the chapter on Syria by Yosef Olmert 
in the annual Middle East Contemporary Survey. Also of interest are 
The Struggle for Power in Syria: Sectarianism, Regionalism, and Tribal- 
ism in Politics, 1961-1978 by Nikolaos Van Dam; Political Participa- 
tion under Military Regimes by Gabriel Ben-Dor; "Domestic/External 
Linkages: Syria, 1961-1967" by Robert Burrowes and Gerald 
DeMaio; "Syria under Asad, 1970-78: The Centers of Power," 
both by Adeed I. Dawisha; The Bath Party: A History from Its Ori- 
gins to 1966 by John F. Devlin; "Syria and the Baath Party" by 
John Galvani; the Syria section in George M. Haddad's Revolu- 
tions and Military Rule in the Middle East: The Arab States, II, Part I. 
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan; Political Organization in Syria: A Case 
of Mobilization Politics by Raymond A. Hinnebusch; Arab Politics: 
The Search for Legitimacy by Michael C. Hudson; and "Society and 
State in Modern Syria" by Moshe Ma'oz. 

In addition, readers are referred to Ted Morgan's "The Wild 
Men Become a Nation"; Tabitha Petran's seminal work Syria; 
Itamar Rabinovitch's insightful Syria under the Baath, 1963-66: The 
Army-Party Symbiosis', Gordon H. Torrey's informed observations 
on "Aspects of the Political Elites in Syria," as well as his "The 
Ba'th — Ideology and Practice"; P. J. Vatikiotis's analysis of "The 


Syria: A Country Study 

Politics of the Fertile Crescent"; and Labib Zuwiyya Yamak's 
highly regarded The Syrian Social Nationalist Party: An Ideological 
Analysis. (For further information and complete citations, see 


Chapter 5. National Security 

Lion-headed eagle pendant, Tall Hariri 

IN EARLY 1987, Syrian national security encompassed a wide 
range of issues. Military and political problems were created by 
the deployment of around 25,000 troops to Lebanon and by Syria's 
ambitious attempt to attain strategic parity with Israel. Whether 
President Hafiz al Assad and his primarily Alawi civilian and mili- 
tary advisers would be able to maintain Syria's unprecedented 
period of continuous political rule was a further consideration. Dur- 
ing the 1980s, the Syrian armed forces gained greater manpower, 
equipment, and operational capability, but this improvement in 
quantity was not matched in quality. The quality of Syria's forces 
remained an important national security consideration because the 
Syrian military, after having suffered defeat and loss to Israel of 
the Golan Heights in the June 1967 War, had faced difficult battles 
in the October 1973 War and in the 1982 Lebanon War. As of 
1987, prospects for future Syrian-Israeli hostility had not less- 

As part of Syria's quest to improve its armed forces, in 1987 
the Soviet Union continued large shipments of military equipment, 
including some of the most modern items in the Soviet arsenal. 
However, financial and military aid from traditional Arab sources 
declined, primarily because of the fall in Arab oil revenues. 
Decreased aid was also caused by Syria's increasingly confronta- 
tional role in regional affairs, including its support of Iran in the 
Iran-Iraq War and its association with the radical Shia groups that 
have emerged as a threat to the stability of Muslim Arab regimes. 
Syria's continued presence in the Lebanese quagmire further con- 
tributed to diminished Arab assistance. Moreover, Syria's "peace- 
keeping mission" in Lebanon, to which the Arab states had agreed, 
had grown detrimental to the morale of its armed forces and had 
weakened Syria's defensive and offensive capability vis-a-vis its prin- 
cipal enemy, Israel. 

However, in early 1987, Syria's perception of threats to its 
national security extended beyond Israel. To the east, Iraq remained 
a rival for ideological leadership and political power within the Baath 
movement. For many years, the two countries had been embroiled 
in vitriolic propaganda warfare and internal subversion, and, with 
the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, Syria actively supported 
Iran. To the west, the government perceived as a threat the emer- 
gence in Lebanon of either a radical Muslim state or a Christian- 
dominated state aligned with Israel. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Major internal threats included sectarian rivalry within Syria's 
many communities. Syria's long history of coups d'etat also caused 
concern to a government that had itself achieved power in Novem- 
ber 1970 through a military coup. Fear of a coup was demonstrated 
by maintenance of powerful internal security services and a prae- 
torian guard. 

Because of the ever-present threats to Syria's national security, 
both domestic and external, and its ties to the Soviet Union, 
information about Syria's military and police affairs was severely 
limited. However, national security concerns, which have played 
a central role since Syrian independence in 1946, clearly pervaded 
the society and its economic and political activities. 

National Security Doctrine and Concerns 

Under Assad, Syria has sought to be a leading Arab and regional 
power, capable of controlling or influencing Lebanon, Jordan, and 
the Palestinians. Syria seeks to participate in every issue in the 
region and to further policies that substantiate its claim to an 
effective regional role. In pursuing these objectives, Syria is striv- 
ing for regional hegemony — a goal that ultimately is likely to go 
beyond Syria's capabilities and resources. In fact, according to vari- 
ous analysts, Syria's pursuit of this goal will undermine its precari- 
ous stability. 

Syria also has striven to lead the Arab resistance to Israel and 
to oppose, both militarily and politically, the path leading to diplo- 
matic recognition of Israel's legitimacy, to which Egypt agreed 
through the Camp David Agreements (see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). 
In pursuit of its goals, the Syrian regime formulated the doctrine 
of "strategic parity" with Israel, which involved upgrading the 
country's military capability and materiel to give it an edge in a 
future confrontation. 

Regionally, Syria was intent on achieving a number of military 
and political objectives. These included the reconquest of the Golan 
Heights (in early 1987 it had deployed a force of about six divi- 
sions in the Damascus-Golan Heights region) and opposition to 
the establishment of an Israeli-dominated "security zone" (manned 
largely by the Christian forces of the pro-Israel South Lebanon 
Army) in southern Lebanon. Syria also sought to control Lebanese 
affairs and to restrict the presence of the Palestine Liberation 
Organization (PLO) military forces in Lebanon without formally 
annexing territory or having to maintain a large military presence 

As part of its national security doctrine, Syria has sought to 
expand its relationship with the Soviet Union, as embodied in the 


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1980 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Specifically, Syria 
endeavored to formalize the relationship with a "strategic coopera- 
tion' ' agreement comparable to the treaty between the United States 
and Israel. 

Syria also employed terrorism in pursuit of its security objec- 
tives. In the mid-1980s, Syria was accused — primarily by the United 
States and the United Kingdom — of playing an active role in 
international terrorist activities through sponsorship of Palestinian, 
Lebanese, and other Arab terrorist groups. Furthermore, Syria had 
been directly implicated in a series of terrorist attacks on Ameri- 
can, West European, Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Jordanian, and 
Turkish targets outside the Middle East. 

Syria and the Middle East Conflict 

Historical Background 

For more than 4,000 years, the area known as Syria has been 
populated by successive waves of Semitic peoples, including 
nomadic tribes. It has also been a battleground for myriad con- 
querors, including Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittites, Babylonians, 
Egyptians, Persians, Macedonian Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, 
Arabs, European Crusaders, Kurds, Ottomans, and the French. 
Countless dynasties, whether local or foreign, have ruled the area. 
From the time of the Arab conquest in the seventh century A.D. 
until it became part of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth cen- 
tury, the region was repeatedly invaded, occupied, merged, and 
fragmented. Syrian armed units were formed under the Umay- 
yad caliphate during the eighth century A.D. and for the next years 
played an important role in the Arab campaign against the Byzan- 
tine Empire. 

Under Ottoman rule, which ended in 1916, Syrians were regu- 
larly conscripted into the empire's forces or pressed into service 
in the armies of contending local chieftains (see Ottoman Empire, 
ch. 1). Syrians fought on one side or the other, but without a sense 
of national purpose. These centuries of foreign subjugation, com- 
bined with political and social fragmentation, provided scant 
grounds for the development of a national military tradition; new 
generations learned regional consciousness or gave their allegiance 
to tribe, clan, or village. 

The Arab inhabitants of the provinces of historical Greater Syria 
(see Glossary) took part in World War I. When the Ottoman 
Empire allied itself with Germany and Austria-Hungary, new 
opportunities opened up for the Arabs, and some came to the 
defense of the Ottoman Empire. Others, as in the case of the small 


Syria: A Country Study 

semisecret societies operating in Syria, which advocated various 
forms of Arab nationalism, and the Arabs from the Hejaz, opposed 
the Ottomans. 

The Arab revolt in the Hejaz, headed by the ruling Hashimite 
family of Mecca, occurred in 1916. A number of Syrians served 
in the forces advised by T.E. Lawrence and other Britons during 
the revolt and also in the Eastern Legion (La Legion d'Orient), 
a French-organized unit. The revolt did not lead to a major upris- 
ing in Syria, but, in 1916, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed 
and Syria was conquered by the Allies, Arab troops commanded 
by Prince Faysal, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, entered Damascus 
and were greeted warmly by the local population. Prince Faysal 
proclaimed himself king of Syria in 1918, but his reign was short 
(1918-20). Faysal had been supported by officers of the Arab Army 
from the Hejaz, former Ottoman officers, and local Syrian nation- 
alists. However, there were many conflicts among these diverse 
groups. Following their defeat by the French (and the interven- 
tion of Britain, which compensated the Hashimites for their loss 
of Syria by giving them Transjordan and Iraq), the French Man- 
date was established in Syria (and Lebanon) in April 1920, and 
a volunteer Arab force was formed to maintain internal order (see 
World War I, Arab Nationalism, and the French Mandate, ch. 1). 

Development of the Syrian Military 

The French Mandate volunteer force formed in 1920 was 
established with the threat of Syrian- Arab nationalism in mind. 
Although the unit's officers were originally all French, it was. in 
effect, the first indigenous modern Syrian army. In 1925 the unit 
was designated the Levantine Special Forces (Troupes Speciales 
du Levant). In 1941 the force participated in a futile resistance to 
the British and Free French invasion that ousted the Vichy French 
from Syria. After the Allied takeover, the army came under the 
control of the Free French and was designated the Levantine Forces 
(Troupes du Levant). 

French Mandate authorities maintained a gendarmerie to police 
Syria's vast rural areas. This paramilitary force was used to com- 
bat criminals and political foes of the French Mandate government. 
As with the Levantine Special Forces, French officers held the top 
posts, but as Syrian independence approached, the ranks below 
major were gradually filled by Syrian officers who had graduated 
from the Military Academy at Horns, which had been established 
by the French during the 1930s. In 1938 the Levantine Special 
Forces numbered around 10,000 men and 306 officers (of whom 
88 were French, mainly in the higher ranks). A majority of the 


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Syrian troops were of rural background and minority ethnic origin, 
mainly Alawis (see Glossary), Druzes (see Glossary), Kurds, and 
Circassians. By the end of 1945, the army numbered about 5,000 
and the gendarmerie some 3,500. In April 1946, the last French 
officers left Syria; the Levantine Forces then became the regular 
armed forces of the newly independent state and grew rapidly to 
about 12,000 by the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the first 
of four Arab-Israeli wars between 1948 and 1986 (not counting the 
1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon). 

The air force was formed in 1948 on the graduation of the first 
class of Syrian pilots from British flight schools. Two years later, 
with the procurement of a few naval craft from France, a small 
navy was established, using army personnel that had been sent to 
French academies for naval training. 

French Mandate authorities were thus responsible for the ini- 
tial development of Syria's armed forces, but by the mid- 1940s, 
for a variety of reasons, Syrians had developed a profound distrust 
of the French in particular and Western Europeans in general. The 
growth of pan-Arabism throughout much of the Arab world, 
including Syria, during the interwar years paralleled the feelings 
of anti-Westernism that were growing in the region. 

Syrian-Israeli Hostility 

Support for Greater Syria, opposition to Jewish settlement in 
Palestine, and the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which Britain 
promised Jews a "national home" in Palestine (as part of the World 
War I promises to the Arabs and Jews) contributed to the growth 
of pan-Arabism as well as to the opposition to recognizing Israel 
as a legitimate Middle Eastern nation (see World War II and 
Independence, ch. 1). The November 1947 United Nations (UN) 
declaration calling for partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab 
states provoked a general strike in Damascus and major rioting 
throughout Syria. In addition, armed bands of irregulars from 
Syria's fledgling armed forces began to raid Jewish settlements near 
the Syrian border. 

In February 1948, Syria signed the League of Arab States (Arab 
League) political and military alliance, under which King Abdul- 
lah of Transjordan was appointed commander in chief of the 
invading armies. On May 16, 1948, one day after the declaration 
of Israeli independence, Syrian armed forces, as part of the Arab 
forces, attacked Israel near Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) from the 
Golan Heights. Syria's leaders, as well as the leaders of other Arab 
League states that simultaneously invaded Israel, expected a swift 
Arab victory. The Syrian forces numbered 8,000 troops, in two 



A war memorial in a cemetery near As Suwayda 

infantry brigades with a mechanized battalion of French-built tanks, 
and a small air force. Although General Taha al Hashimi of Iraq 
was the figurehead leader of the Arab Liberation Army, its real 
leader was a former Syrian officer of the Ottoman Turkish Army, 
Fawzi al Kaukji (who had been a leader of the Arab irregulars dur- 
ing the 1936 revolt in Palestine and had led the Arab guerrilla forces 
based around Nablus). Arab forces were equipped with modern 
weapons (such as tanks, armored cars, artillery, and aircraft 
support) and trained by European instructors attached to Trans- 
jordan's Arab Legion, but they lacked an effective central com- 
mand. The Israeli forces, on the other hand, became a coordinated 
fighting force under their outstanding and committed leadership. 

By October 31, following its defeat, Syria's war along Israel's 
northern borders had ended, although the war continued along 
Israel's southern front. The Arab forces were stunned by the 
effective Israeli resistance and the incompetence of the Arab armies, 
both factors having become apparent after only ten days' fighting. 
By June 1 1 , when the UN imposed a truce, the Syrians had been 
pushed back across their frontier in all but two small border areas. 
Sporadic fighting continued, however, until the Syrian-Israeli 
armistice agreement, signed on July 20, 1949. 

Although Syria lost no territory in its first confrontation with 
Israel, the war had a profound effect on newly independent Syria. 
Revelations of corruption and profiteering and the incompetence 


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of Syria's civilian political leaders were seized upon by military 
officers as an excuse for Syria's debacle in the war. In addition, 
the presence in Syria of around 100,000 Palestinian Arabs who had 
fled Israel during and after the war compounded the country's eco- 
nomic and social problems and initiated what would remain, four 
decades later, one of the central exacerbating issues in the Middle 
East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

Political and economic discontent led to widespread rioting. On 
March 30, 1949, Husni az Zaim, commander in chief of the army, 
led the first of many Syrian coups d'etat to restore political order 
and the supremacy of the armed forces. Such coups would punc- 
tuate Syrian politics for over two decades. 

The 1949 Syrian-Israeli armistice agreement contained numer- 
ous clauses that were interpreted differently by Israel and Syria, 
leading to ambiguities over such issues as administrative rights 
within the demilitarized zone that had been created from areas 
evacuated by the Syrian Army in 1949, fishing rights in Lake 
Tiberias, and access to the waters of the Jordan River. These and 
other issues were constant sources of tension between the two coun- 
tries, leading to localized exchanges of artillery and rocket fire, 
which escalated on December 11, 1955, into an Israeli raid on 
Syrian forces in which fifty Syrian troops were killed. Syria did 
not fight in the 1956 Sinai campaign, although it was a member 
of the Unified Military Command established in October 1956 
among Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Israel's victory in that war 
intensified Syria's determination to confront Israel militarily and 
was a factor in establishing the Syrian-Egyptian union of 1958-61 . 
The stationing of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) 
in Gaza and Sharm ash Shaykh following Israel's withdrawal in 
1957 meant that the Syrian-Israeli front now became the most 
important source of confrontation between the Arab states and 
Israel, leading to armed skirmishes, such as the Tawafiq raid by 
Israel of February 1, 1960. 

On May 17,1967, President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt forced 
the UNEF to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, 
where it had been engaged in peacekeeping functions since the 1956 
Suez War. Then, on May 22, Egypt announced a blockade against 
Israeli shipping in the Strait of Tiran (at the southern tip of the 
Sinai Peninsula). Contingents arrived in Syria from other Arab 
countries, including Kuwait and Algeria, and Israel was soon 
surrounded by an Arab force of 250,000 troops, over 2,000 tanks, 
and some 700 fighter and bomber aircraft. Strategically, Israel faced 
a military offensive on its border with Egypt, Jordan, and 


Syria: A Country Study 

Against this background of mobilization, Israeli leaders began 
planning a preemptive strike against the Arabs. The attack came 
on the morning of June 5 as the Israeli Air Force bombed military 
airfields and engaged in aerial battles with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. 
In the fight, Syria lost thirty-two MiG-21s, twenty-three MiG-15 
and MiG-17 fighters, and two Ilyushin 11-28 bombers — two-thirds 
of its total air inventory. To Egyptian dismay, no major move of 
Syrian ground forces occurred, although Syrian cooperation had 
been a major consideration in Egypt's mobilization and deploy- 
ment in the Sinai. Although it issued belligerent communiques, 
the Syrian leadership's behavior was very restrained. At the 
beginning of the war, the Syrian Air Force mounted an attack 
against Israeli oil refineries in Haifa, but the Israeli Air Force 
retaliated and destroyed the bulk of what remained of Syria's air- 
craft. Syrian artillery kept up a steady bombardment of the Israeli 
forces in eastern Galilee, while the rest of the Israeli forces were 
deployed along the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts. Despite Jor- 
danian pleas for reinforcements, no Syrian troops had been deployed 
in Jordan by the end of the war. 

After defeating the Egyptian and Jordanian armies, Israel turned 
to the Syrian front to end Syrian harassment of Israeli border set- 
tlements from the Golan Heights. The Israeli Northern Command 
attack came on June 9 in an armored and infantry assault follow- 
ing Israeli Air Force strikes that systematically reduced Syrian for- 
ward positions. On June 10, the Syrian forces collapsed and, despite 
their previous geographic and tactical advantages, fled, abandon- 
ing tanks. After about thirty hours of fighting, the Israeli armed 
forces occupied about 1,150 square kilometers of Syrian territory 
on the Golan Heights. An estimated 2,500 Syrian troops were killed, 
and around 100,000 civilians were uprooted from their homes in 
the Golan Heights during and after the hostilities. 

The Syrian armed forces' poor showing in 1967 has been 
attributed to negligence, lack of overall coordination, and poor high- 
level command. Observers considered the failure the result of Syria's 
twenty-year military tradition of politicization at the expense of 

The 1967 defeat also led to increased support for irregular Pales- 
tinian guerrilla forces that, in 1964, had been formally united under 
the banner of the PLO. Syria was the major Arab supporter of 
the PLO immediately after the June 1967 War, although this rela- 
tionship was often marked by violent conflict and upheaval. Syria 
formed As Saiqa (The Thunderbolt), theoretically a guerrilla unit 
under the aegis of the PLO but aligned politically with the Baath 
(Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party and manned largely by 


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Palestinian volunteers from the Syrian Army (see Special and 
Irregular Armed Forces, this ch.). 

Between 1968 and 1970, the PLO operated against Israel from 
Jordanian territory, on occasion supported by Jordanian units. 
Israel conducted some major reprisals, notably the Karameh Opera- 
tion of March 21, 1968. The PLO created a virtual "state within 
a state" in Jordan, even organizing an assassination attempt against 
King Hussein, whose regime felt increasingly threatened by the 
PLO's activity. In response, Hussein launched an all-out attack 
on PLO forces in August and September 1970. The latter, Black 
September, was a bloody eleven-day civil war between Jordanian 
troops and PLO commandos backed by Syrian armored units that 
invaded Jordan. As the Syrian invasion developed and the Jorda- 
nian Army strove to resist it, Syria and the Soviet Union received 
unequivocal indications that neither the United States nor Israel 
would view with equanimity a Syrian invasion of Jordan. Israeli 
mobilization and American troop, fleet, and air activities led the 
Soviets to advise the Syrians to pull back. The Syrian invasion of 
Jordan also caused political strife within Syria. Two months later, 
the minister of defense, General Hafiz al Assad, who had strongly 
opposed Syrian involvement in Jordan, assumed the presidency 
of Syria in a bloodless coup d'etat. 

Clashes between PLO units and the Jordanian Army continued 
throughout 1971, but most of the surviving PLO fighters left Jor- 
dan for Syria. Syria's new leadership supported the goal of "the 
restoration of the national and legal rights of Palestinian Arabs" 
but was ambivalent about the presence of the potentially subver- 
sive Palestinians and placed severe restrictions on their activities. 
As a result, the majority moved to Lebanon. 

Another major foreign policy goal was the recovery of Syrian 
territory on the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967 and 
annexed in 1981 (see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). The October 1973 
War (known in the Arab world as the Ramadan War and in Israel 
as the Yom Kippur War) was principally a result of Syria's pur- 
suit of this second goal, which coincided with Egypt's desire to 
recover the Suez Canal, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip, 
also taken by Israel in 1967. Other intricacies of Arab politics, 
including President Assad's desire to end Syria's traditional isola- 
tion in the Arab world (and ultimately to attain regional hegemony), 
also played a part. The International institute for Strategic Studies, 
noting the wave of riots by workers and students in Egypt in 1972 
and 1973 and Sunni Muslim protests in Syria in early 1973, argued 
that "The very [political] weakness of Sadat and Assad were 
important factors in the decision to launch war on Israel." 


Syria: A Country Study 

By 1973 Syria's post-1967 effort to increase the professionalism 
of its armed forces, largely through the aid of the Soviet Union 
and Czechoslovakia, had borne fruit. Syrian military leaders felt 
self-confident and believed that their superpower ally would lend 
considerable weight in the event of renewed war with Israel. From 
mid-1973 until the beginning of hostilities, Arab leaders met fre- 
quently to plan the coordinated offensive, and Syrian and Egyptian 
army units began massing along their respective borders during 
the last days of September. However, Israeli intelligence, military, 
and political officials misinterpreted these deployments. When the 
Syrian-Egyptian offensive was launched on October 6 at 2:00 P.M. 
on Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, 5 Syrian divisions, con- 
sisting of some 45,000 men, moved against only 2 Israeli armored 
brigades of about 4,500 men stationed on the Golan Heights. 

The timing, no doubt deliberate on Syria's part, in fact had a 
different effect than intended. Because most Israelis were either 
at their synagogues or at home, the roads were clear, and troops 
could be rushed to the border. Nevertheless, for some twenty-three 
hours, Syrian forces held the offensive, almost reaching the encamp- 
ment overlooking the Jordan River Valley at the southern edge 
of the Golan Heights region, but making little headway beyond 
the 1967 cease-fire line in the north. About 1 ,800 Moroccan troops 
held the peak of strategic Mount Hermon near the common Syrian, 
Israeli, and Lebanese border. In the central region, Syria recap- 
tured Al Qunaytirah. But reinforced Israeli troops launched suc- 
cessful counterattacks on October 8 and 9 and had pushed Syrian 
troops back behind the 1967 lines by October 10. Two Iraqi 
mechanized divisions, a Jordanian armored brigade, and a Saudi 
Arabian detachment had joined the Syrian offensive line east of 
Saassa, less than forty kilometers from Damascus, by October 14. 
To its credit, this Arab defense line held for three days of fierce 

During the war, Syria deployed vast numbers of Soviet-made 
surface-to-surface missiles. Between October 7 and October 9, 
several of these hit populated areas in northern Israel. As the Israeli 
ground forces advanced into Syria, the Israeli Air Force destroyed 
part of the Syrian missile system, vital oil installations, power plants, 
bridges, and port facilities at Tartus, Baniyas, and Latakia. 

Syria finally accepted the UN cease-fire on October 24, but 
sporadic fighting continued on the Golan Heights until the disen- 
gagement agreement of March 31, 1974. In all, the war was 
extremely costly to Syria. An estimated 7,000 troops were killed 
and 21,000 wounded; 600 tanks, 165 fighter aircraft, and 7 naval 
vessels were destroyed or lost. An additional 845 square 


National Security 

kilometers of territory was lost, and much vital economic infra- 
structure was destroyed. 

Syria, however, counted several victories. First, Syria's six years 
of struggle to professionalize the armed forces paid off when Syrian 
forces revealed great improvement in battle. In addition, Soviet 
airlifts and sealifts of military equipment during the hostilities 
demonstrated the importance of Syria's military relationship with 
the Soviet Union (see Foreign Influences in the Development of 
the Armed Forces, this ch.). Also, for the first time in the twenty- 
five-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict, there had been effective 
coordination of Arab armies. Finally, under the terms of the dis- 
engagement agreement, Israel withdrew from all freshly captured 
territory and also from a narrow strip of territory, held since 1967 
and including Al Qunaytirah, which was incorporated into a 
demilitarized zone policed by the 1,200-member United Nations 
Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). 

Syria's next engagement with Israel was an outgrowth of its aspi- 
rations toward regional hegemony, especially with regard to 
Lebanon. On June 6, 1982, Israel launched Operation "Peace for 
Galilee," a campaign intended to establish a security zone north 
of the Lebanese border, a distance of some forty kilometers that 
would be free of hostile Palestinian and Shia elements. However, 
this official intention was soon transformed into an overarching 
strategic plan for a three-pronged attack: one along the coastal plain 
to destroy the PLO military infrastructure; a central advance to 
reach the Damascus-Beirut road and establish a presence there; 
and a third to turn eastward along the Damascus-Beirut highway 
and cause the Syrian forces in the Biqa Valley to withdraw toward 
the Syrian border, thereby removing the Syrian military presence 
in Lebanon. 

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon was prompted by a number of 
elements. First, the Lebanese Christian Phalangists had appealed 
to Israel for help following the escalation in fighting between the 
Syrian Army and Phalangist units, placing the mostly Greek 
Orthodox enclave in Zahlah in the Biqa Valley and the Phalangist- 
controlled port of Juniyah, north of Beirut, in danger of being over- 
run by the Syrian Army. Then, both Israel and Syria violated tacit 
agreements concerning Lebanese air space. Syria placed surface- 
to-air missile (SAM) batteries in the Biqa Valley, thus hampering 
regular Israeli reconnaissance flights over Lebanese territory, flights 
to which Syria previously had acquiesced. In addition, Israeli and 
PLO clashes intensified with PLO long-range shelling of Israeli 
border towns and heavy Israeli retaliation against PLO concen- 
trations in Lebanon. Finally, on June 3, members of the Abu 


Syria: A Country Study 

Nidal group, a Palestinian terrorist organization, attempted to 
assassinate Israeli ambassador to Britain Shlomo Argov. 

One of the most significant military events of the conflict was 
the Israeli aerial attack against the Syrian SAMs, resulting in the 
destruction of nineteen sites and the damaging of four. Israeli aerial 
mastery was confirmed in the skies over the Biqa Valley. At the 
conclusion of the first week of the war, after the participation of 
approximately one hundred combat aircraft on each side, a total 
of eighty-six Syrian MiG-21, MiG-23, and Sukhoi-22 aircraft had 
been shot down with no Israeli losses. At the end of the battle, Israel 
had lost two helicopters and an A-4 Skyhawk, which was shot down 
by PLO missile fire. 

There were also armored battles with the Syrians in the central 
and eastern sectors, around Jazzin and Ayn Darah, the latter of 
which commands the Damascus-Beirut highway, and stretching 
into the Biqa Valley. The Syrian armored divisions, with a strength 
of about 700 tanks, were equipped with Soviet-made T-72 tanks, 
the most modern in the Syrian arsenal. Fighting effectively to pre- 
vent the Israeli forces from reaching the Damascus-Beirut high- 
way, the Syrians also used heavy concentrations of antitank weapons 
manned by special commando units. In other battles, Israeli forces 
advanced into the vicinity of Beirut, moving beyond the original 
terms of reference laid down by the Israeli cabinet. Under the direc- 
tion of Ariel Sharon, the controversial minister of defense, Israeli 
forces moved into West Beirut, attacking from land and sea, and 
laid siege to the Palestinian fighters. 

By mid-July 1982, through the mediation of United States 
ambassador Philip Habib, negotiations involving Syria, Israel, 
Lebanon, and the PLO led to the evacuation of some 8,000 PLO 
fighters and remnants of the Syrian 85th Brigade, under the 
supervision of the Multinational Force composed of United States 
Marines and French and Italian troops. PLO personnel were evacu- 
ated by sea to eight Arab countries; the Syrian forces were evacu- 
ated by land along the Damascus-Beirut highway to the Biqa Valley 
in eastern Lebanon. 

Following the assassination of Lebanese president-elect Bashir 
Jumayyil (also spelled Gemayel) on September 14, 1982, Israeli 
forces once again entered West Beirut, with the declared inten- 
tion of preventing an outbreak of sectarian strife. However, it was 
under Israeli coordination that on September 15, the Lebanese 
Phalangist forces entered the two Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra 
and Shatila in West Beirut and massacred Palestinian civilians. 
The Israeli forces withdrew from Beirut on September 3, 1983, 
and redeployed along a new line along the Awali River. This 


National Security 

redeployment followed the breakdown of the May 17, 1983, 
Lebanon-Israel agreement and the handing over of Beirut to the 
Lebanese forces and troops of the 3,000-member Multinational 
Force. Lebanon's abrogation of the agreement under Syrian pres- 
sure was considered a major victory for Assad in his quest for 
regional hegemony. 

Israel initially refused to withdraw its troops from southern 
Lebanon unless arrangements were also made for the withdrawal 
of Syrian and PLO forces. However, the high human and material 
cost of deployment in Lebanon, as well as adverse international 
and domestic public opinion, were major factors in Israel's deci- 
sion to withdraw most of its forces from southern Lebanon in June 
1985, although the Christian forces of Antoine Lahad's pro-Israeli 
South Lebanon Army (SLA) remained. 

By May 1983, Syrian materiel losses amounted to 350 to 400 
tanks, 86 combat aircraft, 5 helicopters and 19 SAM batteries; 
human casualties totaled around 370 killed, 1,000 wounded, and 
250 prisoners of war. Israeli losses, meanwhile, amounted to about 
50 tanks; Israel's casualties in the overall war in Lebanon reached 
about 480 killed, 2,600 wounded, and 11 prisoners. 

The 1982 Lebanon War represented a number of milestones in 
military warfare. For example, the new Soviet T-72 tank was bat- 
tle tested against American-equipped advanced Israeli armor. Also, 
Israel used new forms of battlefield intelligence (including electronic 
countermeasures), made effective use of reconnaissance drones, and 
demonstrated air superiority. The air battles over the Biqa Valley — 
among the major aerial battles in modern history — involved a con- 
frontation between two highly sophisticated electronic command, 
control, and communications systems, not just between aircraft and 
missiles. On the ground, the Syrian Army fought well, and there 
was effective coordination between armor units and antitank com- 
mando units. Observers felt that the weakness of the Syrian Army 
was an inflexibility in maneuver at the major formation level. 

The next clash between Syria and Israel, which occurred in 
November 1985, was caused by Syrian opposition to Israel's air 
surveillance in Lebanon. When Syrian fighter aircraft scrambled 
to prevent Israeli aircraft from flying over eastern Lebanon, two 
Syrian MiG-23s were shot down in Syrian airspace. Syria responded 
by deploying mobile SA-6 and SA-8 SAMs into eastern Lebanon 
and by setting up SA-2 sites along its border with Lebanon. There- 
after, the potential for rapid escalation in Syrian-Israeli hostilities 
became a source of concern on both sides. Following the Israeli 
withdrawal from Lebanon, Syrian influence and control expanded 
to eastern Lebanon and the Biqa Valley, where Syria maintained 


Syria: A Country Study 

Figure 14. Disengagement Lines and Israeli Settlements 
on the Golan Heights, 1985 


National Security 

about two divisions; about six divisions were redeployed in the 
Damascus-Golan Heights region. 

In 1987 Israel continued to be Syria's overriding security con- 
cern. Syrian leaders reiterated their denunciation of Egyptian presi- 
dent Anwar Sadat's 1977-81 peace initiative as "capitulationist" 
and continued to demand that all territory occupied by Israel in 
1967 be returned. They also considered the fulfillment of the 
national rights of the Palestinians as a primary objective of any 
peace talks with Israel. These demands encompassed both mili- 
tary and political considerations. Militarily, Israel's annexation and 
settlement of the Golan Heights gave it a strategic military posi- 
tion less than 100 kilometers from Damascus (see fig. 14). Politi- 
cally, Assad and his colleagues wanted the Arab world to support 
Syria as the leader of the Arab "confrontationist" or "rejectionist" 
states. They felt their position was justified in light of Egypt's 
decision to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Israel and 
Syria's defense of its position in Lebanon against the 1982 Israeli 

Although a major buildup of the Syrian Army following the 1982 
Lebanon War resulted in increased confidence in Syria's military 
capability, outside observers concluded that Syria would lose any 
future military confrontation with Israel. Israeli armed forces were 
considered far more skilled and innovative, in terms of manpower 
and materiel, than those of Syria. Even were there an alliance with 
other Arab states, such as Jordan, Libya, and Iraq, few analysts 
doubted in early 1987 that Israel would prove militarily victori- 
ous. Nevertheless, Syria's military inferiority has not precluded 
(as illustrated by its 1973 offensive) intervention in Lebanon, sup- 
port for terrorist activities, or pursuit of a military option against 
Israel. Despite its losses on the battlefield, Syria won some politi- 
cal and territorial gains in the October 1973 War, the mid-1970s 
disengagement agreements, and the 1982 Lebanon War. Syria's 
continued efforts to massively reinforce its military capabilities with 
Soviet aid were designed to bolster the military option to retake 
the Golan Heights without the aid of Egypt, Syria's traditional Arab 

Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, 1975-87 

Syria's post- 1973 confidence in its military capability contributed 
to its intervention in the civil war that broke out in Lebanon in 
1975. Syrian ties to the area comprising modern-day Lebanon had 
been close for centuries; Lebanon was part of Greater Syria under 
the Ottoman Empire, and both nations were subject to French Man- 
date authority between the two world wars (see World War I, Arab 


Syria: A Country Study 

Nationalism, and the French Mandate, ch. 1; Foreign Policy, 
ch. 4). Thus, Syrian leaders viewed Lebanon's instability as a threat 
to Syria's internal and external security interests, and Syria consid- 
ered itself strong enough to impose a military solution on the 
Lebanese conflict. 

In 1975 Syria played a vital diplomatic role throughout the ini- 
tial stages of the civil war. It acted as mediator for the many cease- 
fires declared between Lebanon's Christians, who dominated the 
country politically and economically, and the majority Sunni and 
Shia (see Glossary) Muslims. The latter sought to transform 
Lebanon into a Muslim Arab country; their drive for greater power 
was afforded a military option by the presence of thousands of armed 
Palestinian guerrillas who had relocated in Lebanon after the PLO's 
1970-71 defeat in Jordan. It was not until January 1976, however, 
when a detachment of fifty Syrian officers was sent to Beirut to 
help police the twenty-sixth cease-fire, that Syrian military per- 
sonnel entered Lebanon. On March 16, Syria escalated its involve- 
ment by ordering Syrian-backed units of the Palestine Liberation 
Army (PLA, the standing army of the PLO) and As Saiqa to stop 
rebel leftist Muslim officers of the Lebanese Army from attacking 
the palace of the country's Christian president, Sulayman Franjiyah 
(also spelled Frangie, Franjieh, or Franjiye) (see Special and 
Irregular Armed Forces, this ch.). 

Lebanese Muslims and the PLO opposed the Syrian intervention, 
which had prevented them from seizing the presidency from the 
Christians. Much of the Arab world was outraged. The Syrian 
intervention also gave rise to a crisis of allegiance within PLA and 
As Saiqa units, which found themselves battling forces closely 
aligned with the PLO. For their part, Syrian leaders talked of peace 
and stability in Lebanon, while privately acknowledging that their 
concept of Syria's own security interests made it necessary to have 
a moderate Lebanese government compatible with Syrian interests. 
In their judgment, a radical left-wing Muslim Lebanese government 
would have been a security risk to the Assad regime, which preferred 
a Lebanese state subservient to its own regional interests. 

Syrian presence in Lebanon grew rapidly. Around 3,000 Syrian 
regulars crossed Lebanese borders on April 9. In May the Lebanese 
parliament elected a new, Syrian-backed, Christian president, Elias 
Sarkis. By October more than 22,000 Syrian troops had entered 
Lebanon. The Syrian presence was sanctioned by the Arab League 
as the major component of the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF), to 
which the league gave a mandate to stop any breach of the peace. 
The ADF was technically under the command of President Sarkis, 


National Security 

but de facto power and control were in the hands of Syrian mili- 
tary commanders. 

After the June 1978 slaying by rival Christian militiamen of 
Christian leader Tony Franjiyah, son of the former president and 
Syria's firmest supporter in Lebanon, the ADF began a campaign 
against Lebanese Christians that included massive artillery bar- 
rages on Christian-held territories in East Beirut and other areas. 
With this action, Syria in effect "switched sides" in the ongoing 
civil war. The reason for this switch was the call by Lebanese Chris- 
tians, whose confidence had been bolstered by increasingly overt 
Israeli support, for a partition of Lebanon along religious lines. 
This call constituted the major challenge to Lebanese stability and 
the authority of the Lebanese government. 

The majority of Syrian troops deployed in Lebanon were formed 
into at least three divisions. Armored brigades and commando units 
were also present, and naval and air force units were used for trans- 
port purposes. Syria's heavy use of artillery, both against Muslim 
factions in earlier fighting and against Christian factions later, 
caused widespread criticism that the bombardments were 
indiscriminately killing civilians and that Syrian troops were pur- 
suing a policy of genocide toward Lebanese Christians. 

In 1987 Syria's military presence in Lebanon remained an urgent 
security issue. In early 1987, the ADF in Lebanon consisted of 
25,000 Syrian troops (the troops from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and 
the United Arab Emirates had withdrawn). The ADF units were 
deployed throughout those areas of central and northern Lebanon 
not under the control of the Christian militias. They were not 
deployed south of the so-called "red line" at the Litani River, near 
the Israeli border, or in the area controlled by the Israeli-dominated 

In February 1987, there was an intensification of clashes between 
militiamen of the Syrian-backed Shia Amal and a coalition of Pales- 
tinians, Druzes, and the Lebanese Communist Party. A renewed 
deployment of an estimated 7,000 Syrian troops in West Beirut 
and major highways linking Beirut to the mountains and the north- 
bound coastal road from southern Lebanon followed. Lebanese 
Muslim leaders requested Syrian deployment, which was con- 
demned by some Maronite officials. Under the agreement for the 
Syrian entry, the militias were to disband their forces and lay down 
their weapons. To restore order, the Syrian troops, stationed at 
most intersections, closed down militia offices, confiscated arms 
caches, and rounded up militia and neighborhood strongmen. There 
was concern, however, that the Syrians would have difficulty resolv- 
ing Lebanon's complex set of rivalries and disarming remaining 


Syria: A Country Study 

militia strongholds in and around Beirut. For instance, Beirut's 
southern suburbs remained a stronghold of Shia militants, particu- 
larly the growing pro-Iranian Party of God (Hizballah), whose 
uncontrolled militancy and hostage-taking also had become increas- 
ingly troublesome to Damascus. Meanwhile, Christian militiamen 
still held ground in East Beirut. 

In early 1987, few analysts believed Syrian occupation would 
end until the Lebanese conflict was resolved. In its own security 
interests, Syria could not afford for either radical leftist or religiously 
fundamentalist Muslim groups to gain total control of Lebanon. 
Also, President Assad had invested his political reputation, both 
at home and within the Arab world, in Syrian-imposed solutions 
to the civil war. Nevertheless, the Syrian intervention was becom- 
ing increasingly costly to Syria's economy as well as to the morale 
of the participating armed forces. Above all, it weakened Syria's 
military threat to Israel by dividing its forces into two fronts and 
diverting resources from recapturing the Golan Heights; at the same 
time, the intervention increased the possibility of direct confron- 
tation with Israel. In early 1987, following the Israeli withdrawal 
to south Lebanon, the Syrian order of battle in Lebanon was 
reported to consist of about two divisions, with a deployment of 
some six divisions in the Damascus-Golan Heights region. 

Some experts believed Syrian leaders preferred to maintain the 
chaotic situation in Lebanon to preserve Syria's hegemony there. 
However, other experts believed that the Syrian leaders strongly 
desired a resolution to the Lebanese conflict so that Syria would 
be free to concentrate on the conflict with Israel. 

Syrian-Iraqi Hostility 

Another important Syrian security consideration in early 1987 
was Syria's twenty-four-year-old antagonism toward its eastern 
neighbor, Iraq. Since 1963, when the Baath Party came to power 
in Syria and became a rival of the Baath Party in Iraq, relations 
between these two states have been marked by political intrigue, 
attempts at subversion, assassinations, and concerted propaganda 
campaigns by each against the other. Since both Syria and Iraq 
are ruled by the ostensibly pan-Arab Baath Party, the conflict has 
been over which "true Baath Party" was to dominate the whole 
movement (see Political Dynamics, ch. 4). Both states considered 
themselves vulnerable to attack because the border between them 
is little more than a line drawn across a vast, open, thinly populated 

In 1975 a dispute over rights to the waters of the Euphrates 
River — a waterway essential to both countries — took Syria and Iraq 


National Security 

to the verge of war. Syria limited the water flowing out of its newly 
completed Euphrates Dam (also known as Tabaqah Dam or Thawra 
Dam), thereby slowing the flow into Iraq. For two months, both 
countries hurled invective at each other, and Syrian troops massed 
along the Iraqi border. Only Saudi Arabian mediation induced 
Syria to release more water from Lake Assad "as a gesture of 
goodwill. ' ' 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, both sides committed frequent 
acts of terrorism and subversion. Syria routinely blamed Iraqi 
agents for a multitude of internal ills. Disaffected army officers who 
had left either country served as prized sources of intelligence and 
propaganda. Tensions between Damascus and Baghdad have been 
exacerbated by Syria's support, including weapons shipments, to 
Iran in the Iran-Iraq War. Just as damaging to Iraq was the 1982 
cutoff of the pipeline that runs through Syria and through which 
Iraq pumped oil to Mediterranean ports (see Industry, ch. 3). 

Syrian-Palestinian Tensions 

PLO military forces constitute another potential threat to the 
stability of the Syrian regime. Hostilities between Syria and Yasir 
Arafat and the PLO's Al Fatah faction intensified in May 1983, 
when armed rebellion against Arafat's leadership broke out. With 
Syrian approval, Fatah dissidents led by Abu Musa overran Al 
Fatah supply centers in Damascus in late May 1983. In June, July, 
and early August 1983, Syrian forces also actively supported the 
anti-Arafat forces fighting in the Biqa Valley and succeeded in driv- 
ing the Arafat loyalists north into Tripoli. On June 24, Arafat was 
expelled from Damascus. In Syrian-dominated areas of Lebanon, 
Syrian officials also confiscated PLO arms and depots. With Syria's 
active support, Palestinian factions opposed to Arafat's rule, prin- 
cipally the Abu Nidal organization, assassinated high-ranking PLO 
officials in the Middle East and Western Europe. Syria also spon- 
sored the Damascus-based Palestine National Salvation Front, an 
anti-Arafat coalition, consisting of such groups as the Popular Front 
for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the 
Liberation of Palestine. Although many PLO forces had been 
expelled from Syria, a PLA brigade, with a force of some 4,500, 
was still stationed there; however, it was carefully watched, 
infiltrated by Syrian security officials, and dependent on Syria for 
arms and supply routes. During the mid-1980s, these measures were 
effective in preventing any organized PLO insurgency against the 
Assad regime, but the potential for such a threat remained in early 
1987, when many pro- Arafat PLO fighters had begun moving back 
to Lebanon. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Syrian-Jordanian Tensions 

Syrian-Jordanian relations have fluctuated between normal diplo- 
matic relations and armed confrontation. At times each side has 
attempted to subvert the other and has supported and provided 
refuge to the other's internal opposition groups. Jordanian interest 
in Syria began in 1921, when the founder of Transjordan, King 
Abdullah, sought to advance into Syria, from which his brother 
had been expelled by the French, and which he regarded as part 
of the promised Hashimite kingdom. Even as late as 1946, when 
both countries gained independence, Abdullah did not abandon 
his plan to become king of Syria. Syria considered Abdullah's 
schemes for an expanded Hashimite kingdom as intervention in 
its domestic affairs and officially complained to the Arab League. 
During the 1950s, Syria mounted a propaganda campaign against 
Abdullah and granted political asylum to opposition elements from 
Jordan, including political asylum in 1957 to Jordanian Army 
officers and civilian politicians who had conspired to topple King 
Hussein. Tensions mounted in 1958 when Hussein's private jet 
en route to Europe was intercepted by Syrian MiGs and forced 
to return to Amman. Also, Syrian-trained groups infiltrated Jor- 
dan to carry out subversive acts, culminating in the August 1960 
assassination of Jordanian prime minister Haza al Majali, whose 
killers escaped to Syria. 

Syrian-Jordanian tensions were exacerbated in the late 1960s, 
following the rift between Jordan and the PLO, with Syria sup- 
porting the Palestinians against Jordan. In September 1970, Syria 
sent an armored division into Jordan to reinforce the Palestinian 
forces under attack by Hussein's army. By July 1971, Syria had 
broken off diplomatic relations with Jordan over the issue. 

The October 1973 War resulted in a gradual improvement in 
relations, as Jordan contributed to the Syrian military effort. In 
1976 Jordan was the only Arab country to support the Syrian 
invasion and subsequent role in Lebanon. However, another break 
between Syria and Jordan occurred in 1977, following Jordan's 
tacit support for Egyptian president Sadat's peace initiative. Dur- 
ing this period, Syria charged Jordan with harboring members of 
the Muslim Brotherhood, who had escaped from Syria. This charge 
led to new tension in December 1980, and military forces of both 
sides were deployed along the border. As a counterweight to Syria, 
Jordan improved its relations with Iraq and became one of its 
primary suppliers. In 1981 Jordan accused Syria of being behind 
the kidnapping of the Jordanian military attache in Beirut and 
charged Rifaat al Assad, President Assad's brother, with 


National Security 

masterminding a plot to assassinate the Jordanian prime minister. 
By the mid-1980s, rapprochement efforts were again under way 
(see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). 

Syrian-Turkish Tensions 

Relations between Syria and Turkey, which share a long border, 
have ranged from normal diplomatic ties to political and military 
tension. Conflicts have arisen over border problems, the appor- 
tionment of river water flow, smuggling, and charges of internal 
subversion. Some of these conflicts have historical roots, particu- 
larly in Syrian resentment at the arbitrary transfer in 1939 of the 
province of Alexandretta (or Hatay, as it was named by the Turks) 
to Turkey by the French Mandate authorities (see Concepts of 
Nationalism, Unity, and the Arab Nation, ch. 4). 

Turkey has charged Syria with supporting Armenian, Kurdish, 
and Arab terrorist groups operating against Turkey. Turkey 
believes Syria offers training facilities and arms to Armenian ter- 
rorists belonging to the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation 
of Armenia and assists them in infiltrating across their common 
border and into Western Europe for attacks against Turkey and 
Turkish targets, particularly diplomats. Turkey has also charged 
that Syria was behind the activities of anti-Turkish Kurdish 
separatist groups. Syria, in turn, has asserted that Turkey gave 
refuge to members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other 
opposition elements at the height of agitation in Syria in the early 

Delineating the 1 ,347-kilometer-long border between the two 
countries has been another sensitive issue. Border problems have 
included smuggling illegal narcotics and arms by individuals and 
militant groups on both sides and (because of the arbitrary border 
demarcation) illegal crossings by related peoples, leading to clashes 
between border guards and, at times, military maneuvers. Border 
crossing has remained a problem in the absence of a Turkish-Syrian 
agreement on border security and the "right of hot pursuit," which 
in Turkey's view would prevent acts against it by separatist groups 
tied to the Syrian government. In the mid-1980s, Syria was impli- 
cated in two terrorist attacks in Turkey. In the July 1985 murder 
of Jordanian diplomat Ziad Sati in Ankara, an arrest warrant was 
issued for a Syrian diplomat. However, the Syrian was allowed 
to leave Turkey shortly before the trial because Turkey did not 
want the incident to affect its relations with Syria. The chief defen- 
dant in the trial, who was employed as a translator in the Jordanian 
embassy, carried a Syrian passport. During the trial, he confessed 
to having worked for Syrian intelligence, stating that his control 


A Country Study 

officer was a Syrian diplomat in Turkey who had given the order 
to assassinate Sati. The same Syrian diplomat was also suspected 
of complicity in the terrorist attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue 
in Istanbul in September 1986, in which twenty-two people were 

Antiregime Opposition Movements 

Opposition movements to the Syrian government in the 1980s 
were based on ideological, ethnic, or religious motives. However, 
because of the interrelationships in Syria between ideology and sec- 
tarian questions, distinctions among the reasons for dissent were 
often blurred. 

Ideologically Based Opposition Movements 

Although the Syrian government has frequently blamed Iraqi 
agents for many breaches of internal security, several other groups 
also were real or potential threats to Syrian political stability. In 
1987 Syria's armed forces constituted the greatest potential threat 
to the regime, if only because they had been the kingmakers in 
every change of government since 1949. By early 1987, however, 
Assad had not been seriously challenged by the military in his six- 
teen years in power. This situation can be attributed to effective 
intelligence agents within the officer corps and to Assad's genuine 
popularity with the military. Assad is popular because, like Assad, 
most of the top army officers have been Alawis. Also, tremendous 
attention has been devoted to building the armed forces, which are 
well paid. Nevertheless, amid mounting tensions with Iraq, in 1975 
there were reports that 200 military and civilian members of the 
Syrian Baath Party had been arrested and charged with plotting 
against the government. 

The Syrian Communist Party (SCP), having a membership of 
about 5,000, was the largest communist organization in Syria. 
Although banned in 1981 when a campaign of arrests was ordered 
against supporters of its veteran leader, Khalid Bakdash, it was 
reported in 1986 that as a concession to the Soviet Union, the SCP 
was restored to favor and had rejoined the ruling National Progres- 
sive Front (see The Syrian Communist Party, ch. 4). 

Until its banning in the late 1970s, the Communist Party Politi- 
cal Bureau (CPPB) was one of the main ideological opposition 
groups in Syria. Created in 1974 as a result of a split within the 
legal SCP, the CPPB provoked the ire of the Assad regime by pro- 
testing against Syria's intervention on behalf of the Christian 
Phalangists in the Lebanese Civil War. In 1987 the first Secretary 
of the CPPB, Riad at Turk (imprisoned without trial since 


National Security 

October 1980), and about 150 party members continued to be con- 
fined in Al Mezzah military prison in Damascus. Nevertheless, 
the CPPB remained a threat to the regime, and throughout the 
late 1970s and early 1980s, Turk's sympathizers staged numerous 
terrorist attacks against Syrian targets. The CPPB also published 
several pamphlets condemning the Baath regime and printed its 
own newspaper, Ar Rayah al Hamrah (The Red Banner). 

In the 1980s, there were additional communist groups in Syria, 
although they were officially banned and many of their members 
held in detention. These groups included the Party for Communist 
Action (PC A), which had about 100 party members still in deten- 
tion in 1985. In 1980 the Base Organization was formed by Yusuf 
Murad, a former member of the SCP Central Committee. The 
Union for Communist Struggle, formed in May 1980, was another 
opposition group. Its seven members were arrested, three of whom 
continued to be detained through 1985. In 1983 a communist 
organization called the Popular Committees took root among Syria's 
Palestinian refugees. In July 1986, a third division occurred within 
the SCP when Central Committee members Ibrahim Bakri and 
Umar Sibai split off over the Palestinian issue and created a new 
"Central Committee." In mid- 1986, as an unknown terrorist group 
was detonating bombs in public places, the government cracked 
down on the proliferating and expanding communist opposition 
movements in Syria and arrested about 1,000 suspected activists. 

Ethnic and Religious Opposition Movements 

Rivalry among the country's various religious and ethnic minori- 
ties has been a perennial source of instability in Syria. During the 
1980s, the primary cause of conflict was domination of top-level 
political and military posts by the minority Alawi community to 
which Assad belongs (see The Armed Forces and Society, this ch.; 
Political Dynamics, ch. 4). 

More worrisome perhaps was intra- Alawi friction. For exam- 
ple, some Alawis honored the memory of former political figure 
Major General Muhammad Umran, assassinated in Lebanon in 
1972, reportedly by Syrian agents. Likewise, some Baath Party 
members remained loyal to the faction Assad overthrew in his 1970 
Corrective Movement (see Political Dynamics, Background, ch. 4). 
This group, named the 23 February Movement, supported former 
Party Secretary Salah al Jadid, former President Nureddin Atassi, 
and former Prime Minister Yusuf Zuayyin — all three of whom were 
incarcerated in Syria. Assad has repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, 
attempted to negotiate with these figures, offering them freedom 
in return for their approval of his government. In many respects, 


Syria: A Country Study 

the Assad regime was more concerned with the activities of the 23 
February Movement than with the open revolt of the Muslim 
Brotherhood. Whereas the fundamentalists carried out terrorist 
attacks, the 23 February Movement staged several well-planned 
but abortive coup attempts in the 1980s and, because Umran and 
Jadid were Alawis, threatened to split the Alawi community. 

Sunni Islamic fundamentalists, however, have posed the most 
sustained and serious threat to the Baath regime. The government 
referred to these militants as the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al 
Muslimin), although this is a generic term describing a number 
of separate organizations. The most important groups included the 
Aleppo-based Islamic Liberation Movement, established in 1963; 
the Islamic Liberation Party, founded in Jordan in the 1950s; 
Shabab Muhammad (Muhammad's Youth); Jundallah (Soldiers 
of God); and At Talia al Muqatila (The Fighting Vanguard), 
established by the late Marwan Hadid in Hamah in 1965 and led 
in 1987 by Adnan Uqlah. The At Talia al Muqatila group, which 
did not recognize the spiritual or political authority of the exiled 
veteran leader of Syria's Sunni fundamentalists, Issam al Attar, 
bore the brunt of the actual fighting against the regime. In the early 
1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood staged repeated hit-and-run attacks 
against the Syrian regime and assassinated several hundred middle- 
level government officials and members of the security forces and 
about two dozen Soviet advisers. The armed conflict between the 
Muslim Brotherhood and the regime culminated in full-scale 
insurrection in Aleppo in 1980 and in Hamah in February 1982. 
The government responded to the Hamah revolt with brutal force, 
crushing the rebellion by killing between 10,000 and 25,000 civilians 
and leveling large parts of the city (see The Assad Era, ch. 1). 

On the third anniversary of the Hamah rebellion, in February 
1985, the government announced an amnesty for Muslim Brother- 
hood members. About 500 of the Muslim Brotherhood were 
released from prison, and those who had fled abroad were encour- 
aged to return to Syria. As a result of the amnesty, many mem- 
bers of At Talia al Muqatila surrendered to government authorities. 

Following the Hamah uprising, extremist antiregime Muslim 
groups in Syria seemed fragmented and presented little threat to 
the Assad regime. The next series of major antiregime terrorist 
attacks occurred when a truck exploded in northern Damascus on 
March 13, 1986, followed on April 16 by explosions on buses car- 
rying military personnel. A Lebanese, claiming he had been sent 
by the Iraqi government, publicly confessed to the March incident 
and was hanged. Outside observers, however, were unable to verify 
his or Iraqi complicity. Other potential instigators included 


National Security 

Lebanese Christian groups (in retaliation for the Syrian role in 
artillery shelling and car bomb explosions in East Beirut), PLO 
factions such as Al Fatah, and Israel. 

Despite these dangers to Syrian internal security, the overall sit- 
uation in the mid- and late 1980s was stable compared with the 
situation between 1946 and 1970. The traditional centers of 
dissatisfaction — students, labor unions, and dissident communist 
organizations — were thoroughly infiltrated by Syrian security per- 
sonnel and in early 1987 posed no significant threat to the govern- 
ment. However, Syrian society is a mosaic of social groups whose 
interests and loyalties have often conflicted. President Assad, more 
than any leader in Syria's modern history, has been able to focus 
these conflicting interests and loyalties on national goals. Neverthe- 
less, centrifugal forces, such as sectarianism, persisted in this volatile 
Arab nation, and the armed forces will probably long remain the 
ultimate arbiters of power. 

The Regular Armed Forces 

Size, Equipment, Command Structure, and Organization 

By 1987 the Syrian armed forces were increasingly professional 
and well equipped. The Syrian armed forces totaled 500,000 regu- 
lars and 340,000 reserves in 1985. These figures represented a 
tremendous expansion in manpower, training, and equipment, 
which had been achieved with considerable financial and military 
aid from the Arab states and the Soviet Union and several of its 
East European allies. By early 1987, the vast majority of Syrian 
military equipment was Soviet manufactured, and the organiza- 
tion and military doctrine of the armed forces followed the Soviet 

President Assad was commander in chief of the armed forces, 
retaining the rank of lieutenant general. Directly responsible to 
Assad was the flamboyant deputy premier and defense minister, 
General Mustafa Tlas, who also held the title of deputy commander 
in chief of the armed forces and army. Although a Sunni Muslim, 
Tlas has been a close friend of Assad since they were assigned as 
officers to the Egyptian Army (1959-61). Tlas was jailed for his 
part in an abortive officers' coup in 1962-63 in cooperation with 
Assad and later helped bring Assad to power. A tank commander, 
he was appointed lieutenant general and, in March 1972, minister 
of defense. He received general staff training in Moscow at the 
Voroshilov Academy and advocated close ties with the Soviet Union 
and a hard line on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Vice president for mili- 
tary and national security affairs was the president's brother, the 


Syria: A Country Study 

volatile Rifaat al Assad. As a result of political infighting over the 
issue of succession to Assad, Rifaat was living in temporary exile 
in France in early 1987. The chief of the general staff and chief 
of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Hikmat Shihabi, was third 
in command. General Ali Asian was deputy chief of the general 
staff. The commander of the ground forces was Major General 
Yusuf Bin Raghib Shakur. The air force retained its own com- 
mander, Major General Ibrahim Hassan. The navy commander 
was Rear Admiral Mustafa Tayara. 

The chief of staff of the armed forces functioned through the 
general staff, an administrative body that was divided into the usual 
branches, such as personnel, intelligence, training, and logistics. 
The general staff did not possess decision-making powers; these 
were largely confined to the commanders and chiefs of staff acting 
on behalf of the president. In 1970 a political department was 
established "to guide members of the armed forces ideologically 
and to instill in them loyalty toward the present regime." 


In 1987 the army was overwhelmingly the dominant service. In 
addition to its control of the senior-most posts in the armed forces 
establishment, the army had the largest manpower, approximately 
80 percent of the combined services. In 1985 army regulars were 
estimated at 396,000, with an additional 300,000 reserves. The 
army had nine divisions. The major development in force organi- 
zation was the establishment of the special forces division and the 
organization of ground formations into two corps. The army's active 
manpower served in two all-arms army corps, five armored divi- 
sions (with one independent armored brigade), three mechanized 
divisions, one infantry-special forces division, and ten airborne- 
special forces independent brigades. 

In addition to being the largest, the army was the best equipped 
of the three services, with over 4,100 Soviet-built tanks (including 
1 ,000 of the advanced T-72s) and a formidable air defense system 
of SAM batteries and myriad antiaircraft guns and artillery. In 
1987 Syria was scheduled to receive 500 new Soviet SS-23 ballistic 
missiles with a range of 500 kilometers. Syria was also reported 
to have begun producing its own chemical weapons, including nerve 
gases, with the capability to use the chemical agents in missile war- 
heads. The Air Defense Command, within the Army Command 
but also composed of air force personnel, numbered approximately 
60,000. It served in twenty air defense brigades (with approximately 
ninety-five SAM batteries) and two air defense regiments. The Air 
Defense Command had command access to interceptor aircraft and 


National Security 

radar facilities. Air defenses included SA-5 long-range SAM bat- 
teries around Damascus and Aleppo, with additional SA-6 and 
SA-8 mobile SAM units deployed along Syria's side of the Lebanese 
border and in eastern Lebanon, and short-range SS-21 surface- 
to-surface missiles with conventional warheads. The 1,800-member 
Border Guard (sometimes designated as the Desert Guard or Fron- 
tier Force) was also under the Army Command and responsible 
for patrolling the nation's vast border areas (see table 13, Appendix). 


In 1985 the navy consisted of approximately 4,000 regular and 
2,500 reserve officers and men. The navy, lacking parity with the 
other services, was under the army's Latakia regional command. 
The fleet was based in the ports of Latakia, Baniyas, Minat al 
Bayda, and Tartus. Among the more than 40 vessels in the fleet 
were 2 or 3 Soviet submarines (including 2 Romeo-type diesel- 
electric submarines, transferred by the Soviet Navy in 1985), 22 
missile attack craft (including 8 advanced Osa II missile boats), 
2 submarine chasers, 3 mine warfare vessels, 8 gunboats, 6 patrol 
craft, 4 missile corvettes (on order), 3 landing craft (on order), and, 
as part of its coastal defense system, Sepal shore-to-sea missiles with 
a range of 300 kilometers (see table 14, Appendix). 

Air Force 

The air force, which was independent of the Army Command, 
consisted of about 100,000 regular and 37,500 reserve officers and 
men. In 1985 its 9 fighter-ground attack squadrons and an esti- 
mated 15 interceptor squadrons totaled approximately 650 com- 
bat aircraft. Almost all combat aircraft were Soviet manufactured 
and included 5.0 MiG-25 and MiG-25R (Foxbat) interceptors and 
nearly 200 MiG-23S/U (Flogger) and Su-20 (Fitter-C) ground- 
attack and multirole aircraft (see table 15, Appendix). In 1986 there 
were reports that the Soviet Union had agreed to provide Syria 
at least two squadrons of the advanced supersonic MiG-29 Fulcrum 
fighter aircraft equipped with top-of-the-line avionics. The air force 
was equipped with approximately ninety attack helicopters of the 
Mi-24/Mi-25 Hind and SA-342 Gazelle types. As part of an effort 
to upgrade its command-and-control network, the air force was 
reported to have the Tu-126 (Moss) advanced early warning air- 
craft. Military airfields were located in Aleppo, Blay, Damascus 
(International Airport), Damascus (Al Mazzah), Dayr az Zawr, 
Dumayr, As Suwayda, Hamah, Khalkhalah, Latakia, Nasiriyah, 
Tadmur, Sayqal, T-4 (located on the oil pipeline), and seven 
additional sites. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Manpower, Recruitment, and Conscription 

The vast majority of manpower for the armed forces came from 
male conscription, which has been compulsory and universal (only 
the small Jewish community is exempted) since 1946 and was offi- 
cially reaffirmed by the Service of the Flag Law in 1953. Females 
are not required to serve, although some do; however, they play 
more a public relations than a military role. Males must register 
for the draft at eighteen; each year around 125,000 reach nineteen, 
which is when the thirty-month conscription period begins. In 1985 
it was estimated that of the country's population of over 10.6 mil- 
lion, 1.3 million were males fit for military service. 

Before the rise to power of the Baath Party in 1963, middle and 
upper class youths, who have rarely been attracted to military serv- 
ice, were often exempted from conscription on payment of a fee. 
Since then, this practice has been eliminated, although youths liv- 
ing abroad in Arab countries continued to be exempted on pay- 
ment of a fee set by law. University students were exempted, but 
many attended military training camps during the summer, and 
all were obligated to do military service upon completion of their 
studies. Observers stated that those conscripted in the mid-1980s 
represented a broad cross section of society. 

Conscripts faced a series of options in the Syrian Army. After 
completion of his period of conscription, a man could enlist for five 
years in the regular service or, if he chose not to enlist, he would 
serve as a reservist for eighteen years. If he enlisted and became 
a noncommissioned officer (NCO) during his five-year service, he 
could become a professional NCO. A volunteer who did not attain 
NCO status could reenlist but was automatically discharged after 
fifteen years of service or upon reaching age forty. A professional 
NCO was retired at age forty-five or, at his own request, after 
twenty years of service. 

Conscripts and enlisted men generally lacked mechanical and 
technical skills, although beginning in the 1970s the number of con- 
scripts who had completed the six years of primary school increased 
dramatically, as did the number of secondary and vocational school 
graduates. The rugged rural origin of most conscripts has condi- 
tioned them to endure hardship and accept strict discipline. Mili- 
tary service has given most recruits the opportunity to improve their 
health and, because they receive technical training during most 
of their active duty, to leave the service with a marketable skill. 

Officers have tended to be less representative of the general society 
than conscripts, primarily because of the high degree of politiciza- 
tion of the officer corps. Although officers were not required to join 


Women soldiers 
of the Syrian armed forces 

the Baath Party, membership was a crucial factor for advancement 
to flag rank. 

In addition to political loyalty, the officer corps was character- 
ized by the dominance of the Alawi and Druze minorities, a con- 
dition dating from the French Mandate policy of recruiting these 
and other minority groups into the colonial military forces. Although 
many of the officers were Sunni Muslims, most of the key senior 
posts were held by Alawis. 

Military Training 

In 1987 three military schools were training commissioned officers 
for the services: the Military Academy, the Naval Academy, and 
the Air Force Academy . Young men from eighteen to twenty-three 
could apply for admission to the school of their choice. Selections 
were made from those who passed the required entrance exami- 
nation, were physically qualified, and were considered politically 
loyal. All three academies conducted a standard two-year course 
leading to a commission immediately on completion of the 

The Military Academy, located at Horns, was founded by the 
French in 1933 and is the oldest and largest of the service insti- 
tutions. It was primarily a school for training infantry officers. 
Graduates selected for the. other services went on to additional 
specialized training at other army-operated specialist schools. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Selected graduates were frequently sent for advanced training to 
military academies in the Soviet Union. 

The Naval Academy, at Latakia, began operations in 1962 after 
the breakup of the union with Egypt and the recall of Syrian stu- 
dents attending the Egyptian Naval Academy. Its facilities and stu- 
dent body were limited, and it has produced only a handful of 
graduates each year. 

The Air Force Academy was located at Nayrab Air Base, near 
Aleppo. It was established in 1960 and took over the training of 
air officers, who were formerly sent abroad for schooling, usually 
to Britain, France, or Egypt. The curriculum provided instruction 
in theoretical, technical, and scientific subjects and included basic 
flight training. The academy has trained technical officers as well 
as pilots. For training in advanced jet aircraft, however, pilots have 
been sent to Soviet or East European flight schools. Technical 
graduates have generally attended Soviet schools for advanced tech- 
nical training, but since 1964, increased technical training has been 
conducted at Syrian bases. 

Reserve officers were trained at a fourth institution, in Aleppo. 
Candidates, in many cases college graduates, were selected from 
among incoming annual classes of conscripts. They attended a con- 
centrated nine-month course and were then assigned to units, 
usually in the infantry, as officer candidates. Those who met the 
qualifications continued as candidates until one month before com- 
pletion of their required tours of duty, at which time they received 
their commissions as reserve second lieutenants. 

In the past, the standards maintained in officer training varied 
widely because of the country's frequent political changes. In 
addition, the differences in the experiences of officers trained in 
France, Britain, Egypt, Iraq, the United States, and the Soviet 
Union created a divergence of military and political doctrines within 
the officer corps. Since 1963, however, training has become 
increasingly systematic and standardized along Soviet lines. By 1987 
graduates of Syrian military academies emerged as dedicated and 
professional soldiers. 

Conditions of Service, Morale, and Military Justice 

The general atmosphere and the amenities associated with mili- 
tary life have steadily and considerably improved since 1946. With 
rare exceptions, Syrian government and political leaders have recog- 
nized the need for favorable conditions of service so as to main- 
tain the loyalty of their primary source of power. Officers, for 
example, were reported to be able to buy automobiles without the 


National Security 

usual 200 percent duty and to obtain interest-free government loans 
for down payments on living quarters. 

The life of the ordinary soldier, however, was not an easy one. 
His daily routine was concentrated and arduous, and discipline 
was strict and often severe. However, a long-range program of con- 
struction and rehabilitation, initiated during the early 1960s, 
improved the living conditions on many bases. In 1987 the quar- 
ters, food, and pay compared favorably with what a worker could 
obtain in the civilian economy. Accrual of leave, retirement, medical 
care, and other benefits also made military service attractive. There 
were no reliable figures on military pay available in 1987, but the 
indications were that rates were relatively high by the standards 
of many other Arab armies. There were also supplementary 
allowances for both officers and enlisted men, which in many cases 
totaled more than the basic rate. For example, various specialists, 
both officers and enlisted, received substantial amounts of techni- 
cal pay. Additional compensation for flight personnel, paratroops, 
and men engaged in other kinds of hazardous duty had been 

Improved conditions of service have improved morale in the 
ranks. The relative political stability of the 1970s and 1980s has 
also raised morale. The previous three decades had witnessed fre- 
quent changes of government by military coups d'etat, leading to 
purges, imprisonments, or the execution of officers associated with 
the deposed regime. Under Assad, the top army ranks have felt 
more secure. The ambitious rebuilding of the armed forces also 
increased the prestige and morale of the military. Nevertheless, 
by early 1987, the eleven-year occupation and frequent fighting 
in Lebanon were reportedly affecting the army's morale. Frequent 
rotation of troops limited exposure to an unsatisfactory military 
situation and the corrupting influences of the war-torn Lebanese 
environment and reduced periods that soldiers were away from their 

As in the past, in 1987 the typical enlisted man, whether a con- 
script or a volunteer, came from a traditional authoritarian Mus- 
lim family and accepted discipline as a regular requirement of 
military life. A system of military courts existed to try cases involving 
disciplinary and criminal offenses in the armed forces. Although 
the information available in 1987 was incomplete and somewhat 
dated, observers noted the existence of two kinds of military courts. 
In one, a single judge heard cases involving routine disciplinary 
matters and minor criminal offenses. The other, which was com- 
posed of three judges, tried felonies and other major crimes. Judges 
in both courts were officers who had earned a law degree. Two 


Syria: A Country Study 

additional kinds of military courts — state security courts and the 
Supreme State Security Court — were established in the early 1970s 
to hear cases involving breaches of security, that is, political crimes 
(see Crime and Punishment, this ch.). Both civilian and military 
personnel were subject to trial by these special courts. 

Uniforms and Rank Insignia 

Service uniforms for Syrian officers generally follow the British 
style, although army combat clothing follows the Soviet model. Each 
uniform has two coats: a long one for dress and a short jacket for 
informal wear. Army officer uniforms are khaki in summer, olive 
in winter. Air force officers have two uniforms for each season: 
a khaki and a light gray for summer and a dark blue and a light 
gray in winter. Naval officers wear white in summer and navy blue 
in winter. Lower ranks wear the traditional bell bottoms and white 
blouse. The uniform for naval chief petty officers is a buttoned 
jacket, similar to that worn by United States chief petty officers. 
Officers have a variety of headgear, including a service cap, garri- 
son cap, and beret (linen in summer and wool in winter). The color 
of the beret varies by season and according to the officer's unit. 

Commissioned officers' rank insignia are identical for the army 
and air force. These are gold on a bright green shoulder board for 
the army and gold on a bright blue board for the air force. Officer 
ranks are standard, although the highest is the equivalent of general, 
a rank held in 1 986 only by the commander in chief and the minister 
of defense. Navy officer rank insignia are gold stripes worn on the 
lower sleeve. The highest ranking officer in the Syrian Navy is the 
equivalent of captain. Army and air force rank for warrant officers 
is indicated by gold stars on an olive green shield worn on the upper 
left arm. Lower NCO ranks are indicated by upright and inverted 
chevrons worn on the upper left arm (see fig. 15). 

Although some twenty-five orders and medals are authorized, 
generally only senior officers and warrant officers wear medal rib- 
bons. The following are some important Syrian awards: Order of 
Umayyads, Medal of Military Honor, War Medal, Medal for 
Courage, Yarmuk Medal, Wounded in Action Medal, and Medal 
of March 8, 1963. 

Foreign Influences in the Development of the Armed Forces 

Various foreign countries were essential to the development of 
the armed forces of the late 1980s. As the former colonial power, 
France had been the dominant foreign influence during the for- 
mative years after Syria's independence. Later, Britain and the 
United States also aided the military, largely by serving as sources 


National Security 

Syria: A Country Study 

of professional officer training. During the 1958-61 union with 
Egypt, Egyptian doctrine and training were influential. By 1987, 
however, the Soviet Union was the predominant foreign influence, 
as it had been for over two decades. At times, Syrian-Soviet rela- 
tions have been strained, and Syria has guarded its freedom to make 
policy independent of the Soviets, particularly with regard to Iraq, 
Lebanon, and the Palestinians. However, Soviet military assistance 
and the presence of Soviet military advisers continued to be essen- 
tial to the growth and professionalization of the armed forces. East 
European countries, notably Czechoslovakia, the German Demo- 
cratic Republic, and Romania, have also provided some materiel 
and training (see Foreign Policy, ch. 4). 

The Soviet-Syrian military relationship began in March 1955, 
when the Soviets offered to extend considerable economic and mili- 
tary assistance in support of Syria's refusal to join the Baghdad 
Pact, an alliance that was being formed under the general auspices 
of Britain and the United States. Initial arms shipments arrived 
from Czechoslovakia in 1956, but East European aid was on a small 
scale until the rise of Baathist president Nureddin Atassi in 1966. 
During the June 1967 War, the threat of Soviet intervention on 
behalf of Syria and Egypt was partly responsible for halting the 
Israeli advance on both fronts. After the June 1967 War, Soviet 
military aid to Syria grew substantially, and the Soviets established 
a sizable military presence there. 

Assad's rise to power led to a strengthening of political and mili- 
tary ties with the Soviet Union. Contributing to these closer rela- 
tions was Egypt's sudden ouster of Soviet military advisers in July 
1972, which caused an increased Soviet interest in Syria. The 
months preceding the October 1973 War saw a significant increase 
in Soviet arms flow to Syria. During the war, Soviet military 
advisers supervised the operations at SAM sites and were present 
at Syrian command posts. 

The most significant Soviet involvement in October 1973, 
however, was its airlift of almost 4,000 tons of military equipment 
and its sealift of considerably more to rearm the Syrian and Egyp- 
tian armies. Within a year after the cease-fire, the Soviets had more 
than replaced Syria's massive equipment loss. 

However, Syria's intervention in the Lebanese Civil War against 
leftist Muslim forces in 1976 led to a strain in Soviet-Syrian rela- 
tions. For more than a year, the Soviets suspended deliveries of 
military materiel, while Syria retaliated by reducing its Soviet mili- 
tary presence and halting training for its military in the Soviet 
Union. To replace Soviet support, Saudi Arabia supplied most of 


National Security 

the funds to maintain Syria's troops in Lebanon. By 1987, however, 
Saudi financial aid was believed to have decreased. 

During the Syrian-Soviet rapprochement in 1978, Libya report- 
edly supplied the equivalent of US$500 million to US$1 billion to 
pay for Syria's Soviet-supplied weaponry, including 12 MiG-27s. 

Syria was also able to pay for Soviet weaponry as a result of the 
October 1978 Arab summit in Baghdad that pledged payments to 
Syria (as well as to Jordan and the PLO) if it agreed to reject the 
Camp David Agreements of September 1978. Under the Baghdad 
agreement, Syria was allotted US$1 .8 billion annually. Only a few 
countries, however, notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, maintained 
regular payments; consequently, Syria has received only US$700 
to US$800 million per year in Baghdad agreement aid (see Balance 
of Payments, ch. 3). 

From 1979 to 1983, the Soviet Union delivered US$9.2 billion 
in arms transfers (out of a total of US$10.5 billion pledged). 
Czechoslovakia was the next largest supplier, with US$470 mil- 
lion in military aid. China delivered US$90 million, Poland US$30 
million, and Romania US$20 million. In addition, Syria received 
US$200 million in military aid from France, US$180 million from 
Britain, and US$40 million from the Federal Republic of Germany. 

In addition to arms, Syria received military advisers and tech- 
nicians from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and sent mili- 
tary personnel to those countries for training. The number of such 
advisers and technicians in Syria was estimated at 3,500 in the 
aftermath of the October 1973 War; 2,500 in 1976; 2,000 to 3,000 
in 1978; 5,300 in 1984; and 2,300 in 1986. With regard to train- 
ing, the United States Central Intelligence Agency has estimated 
that 6,600 Syrian military personnel were trained in the Soviet 
Union between 1955 and 1985, and a further 1,515 were trained 
in other East European countries. 

Some observers saw the 1980 Treaty of Friendship and Coopera- 
tion between Syria and the Soviet Union as the culmination of the 
two countries' relationship. From the Syrian perspective, however, 
this treaty had a deep-seated flaw; there was no reference in it to 
Syria's position in Lebanon. Syria wanted and had requested a 
"strategic agreement" with the Soviet Union to offset any United 
States-Israeli agreement. Yet no such Soviet-Syrian agreement was 
signed, and no broader alliance evolved, although the Soviet Union 
increased its military assistance following Syria's 1982 defeat in 
Lebanon. While maintaining its sovereignty, Syria expressed 
appreciation for Soviet assistance by granting the Soviets facilities 
to base reconnaissance aircraft and expanding the ports of Latakia 
and Tartus to accommodate large Soviet ships. 


In 1983 and 1984, the Soviet Union increased involvement by 
installing SA-5, SA-6, SA-9, and SS-21 missile systems in Syria. 
The missile systems, which had adequate range to cover a major 
part of the region, were at first manned and protected by Soviet 
advisers and troops and have only gradually been turned over to 
Syrian control. The large Soviet resupply of SAM systems was 
interpreted by the United States, Israel, and Jordan as a Soviet 
response to the massive destruction of Soviet-built SAMs in the 
1982 Lebanon War, among other reasons. Syria acquired addi- 
tional T-72 tanks following Assad's October 1984 visit to 

In 1983 Syria's rejection of the Camp David Agreements, its 
alleged support of international terrorism, and its close friendship 
with the Soviet Union led the United States Congress to prohibit 
any new aid; since 1979 no new American aid has been assigned 
to Syria. Meanwhile, despite, or perhaps because of, the dominant 
Soviet influence on the armed forces, Assad has repeatedly sought 
to diversify Syria's source of armaments, for instance, by negotia- 
tions with France. However, Syrian-French arms deals broke down 
over the issue of Syrian support for anti-French terrorist groups. 
In general, Syrian efforts to purchase Western defense technology 
have been unsuccessful. 


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Special and Irregular Armed Forces 

Defense Companies 

In 1987 the Assad government controlled or sponsored several 
important special military units in addition to the regular armed 
forces. Until they were disbanded and reorganized as a standard 
division in 1984, the most important special forces were the Defense 
Companies (Saraya ad Difa), which consisted of about 15,000 to 
25,000 specially trained and equipped officers and men. Established 
in 1971, the Defense Companies were organizationally indepen- 
dent of the regular armed forces and under the command of Rifaat 
al Assad, the president's brother. In 1984 Rifaat was relieved of 
his command and replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Muayyin Nassif, 
his deputy commander and brother-in-law. Nassif, in turn, was 
replaced by General Hikmat Ibrahim. Foreign observers viewed 
this elite military unit as the president's private army. The Defense 
Companies were renamed Unit 569 and reorganized as a standard 
armored division with four armored brigades and three mechanized 

Until reformation as Unit 569, Defense Companies personnel 
had been recruited independently of the regular armed forces. 
Recruitment was believed to be predominantly among Alawis, the 
ethnic community presumed most loyal to Assad. Observers 
reported that the Defense Companies had been equipped with some 
of the most modern weapons available to the Syrian Army, includ- 
ing T-72 tanks, SAMs, and attack helicopters, and could call on 
regular forces for logistical help and military support. 

The Defense Companies had been garrisoned outside Damas- 
cus, presumably with the primary mission of countering attempted 
coups or other challenges to the central government. These spe- 
cial forces, however, also had military missions beyond the role 
of a praetorian guard. For example, they acquired combat experi- 
ence during Syria's first armed intervention in Lebanon (June- 
October 1976). Defense Companies units also had been involved 
in internal security, such as carrying out house-to-house searches 
during the nationwide strikes and demonstrations in Aleppo in 
March 1980 and in June 1980 killing between 600 and 1 ,000 Tad- 
mur Prison inmates suspected of belonging to the banned Muslim 
Brotherhood. In 1982 units had been deployed in Hamah during 
the armed uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, and they partici- 
pated in the massacre of 10,000 to 25,000 civilians there. 

The Defense Companies had also been deployed against Jordan. 
In late February 1981, some of their senior commanders, includ- 
ing Colonel Adnan Barakat, were alleged to have been involved 


Syria: A Country Study 

in an abortive assassination attempt against Jordanian prime 
minister Mudir Badran. Members of the Defense Companies also 
reportedly had been sent abroad to monitor Syrian political exiles 
and to impede their activities. In Lebanon, Defense Companies 
units had supported pro-Syrian Lebanese militias, such as the 
Tripoli-based Arab Knights of the Arab Democratic Party (founded 
in 1 98 1 by Rifaat al Assad and composed largely of Lebanese Alawis 
of Syrian origin), and the Lebanese Baath Party and its militia, 
the Assad Battalion. 

Republican Guard 

The Republican Guard was responsible for Assad's security and 
together with the Defense Companies provided bodyguards assigned 
on the basis of personal loyalties and affiliations to leading mem- 
bers of the regime and top officials. The Republican Guard was 
commanded by Adnan Makhluf, the president's brother-in-law. 
Political allies and associates of Rifaat al Assad, on the other hand, 
were given bodyguards from the Defense Companies. 

As Saiqa 

A third organization, As Saiqa (The Thunderbolt), was formed 
in 1966 by the pro-Syria Baath Party National Conference as a 
military wing of the Palestinian faction of the Syrian Baath Party. 
Although ostensibly under the umbrella of the PLO (it is represented 
on the PLO Executive Committee and Military Department), As 
Saiqa was firmly under Syrian Army control. In 1987 As Saiqa 
was led by three officials: Isam al Qadi, the secretary general; 
Muhammad al Khalifa, the representative on the PLO Executive 
Committee and the Military Department; and Majid Muhsin, the 
head of operations in Lebanon. Muhsin was the brother of Zuhair 
Muhsin, who was appointed head of As Saiqa in 1970 by Assad, 
following the new regime's purge of its Palestinian leadership in 
an attempt to place As Saiqa firmly under Syrian Army control. 
Zuhair Muhsin was killed in July 1979 by an unknown assailant 
in Cannes, France. 

As Saiqa' s Palestinian credentials have depended on its ability 
to balance its PLO activities with the state policies of its Baathist 
Syrian sponsors. As Saiqa' s special units participated on Syria's 
behalf in some of the Syrian-Palestinian clashes during the Lebanese 
Civil War, in particular in the Syrian siege of Ad Damur, previ- 
ously a Maronite township but later occupied by the PLO and the 
Palestinians, who had set up camps and headquarters there. Many 
of As Saiqa' s troops defected to other Palestinian guerrilla groups 
during these clashes in early June 1976. In July- August 1976, the 


National Security 

troops that remained switched sides and assisted in the defense of 
the Palestinian Tall az Zatar refugee camp against Phalangist attack. 
Units of As Saiqa participated in the Syrian-backed 1983 armed 
rebellion against Arafat's leadership by dissident elements within 
the PLO. By 1983 observers estimated that 70 percent of As Saiqa' s 
members were Syrians. 

Sponsorship of Terrorism 

In the mid-1980s, much media attention was paid to Syria's 
alleged use of terrorism to achieve diplomatic, military, and stra- 
tegic objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere. Although the 
exact Syrian role was murky, in the mid-1980s Syria's intelligence 
and security networks were strongly implicated in the support of 
Middle Eastern and other international terrorist groups in Western 
Europe. In fact, Syria was one of the countries on the terrorism 
list issued by the United States government, first compiled in 1979. 

Within Syria's intelligence and security services, sponsorship of 
terrorism reportedly was conducted by air force intelligence, of 
which Major General Muhammad al Khawli, an air force officer, 
has served as chief since 1970. Khawli, an Alawi, was considered 
Assad's most important adviser, and his office was adjacent to 
Assad's in the presidential palace in Damascus, where he was 
presidential adviser on national security and head of the National 
Security Council. Since 1976 Khawli has been the architect of 
Syria's policy in Lebanon. He also was credited with crushing the 
uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hamah in 1982, and, 
according to the Times of London, under his command air force 
intelligence operatives had directed at least twenty-nine terrorist 
operations as of late 1986. These intelligence operatives reportedly 
worked in the offices of Syrian Arab Airlines abroad and also as 
military attaches in Syrian embassies. Thus, Syria had a formida- 
ble intelligence network with which to direct and fund terrorist 
groups and provide them such assistance as explosives and weapons, 
false passports and official Syrian service passports, diplomatic 
pouches, safe houses, and logistical support. Lieutenant Colonel 
Haitham Sayid, deputy chief of air force intelligence and its opera- 
tions director, was second in command to Khawli. In Lebanon, 
Khawli' s power was exercised by Brigadier General Ghazi Kanaan, 
head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. 

Military intelligence services were headed by General Ali Duba, 
an Alawi, who was, in effect, the country's chief of internal secu- 
rity. Military intelligence was headquartered in the Ministry of 
Defense complex in the center of Damascus and reputedly exer- 
cised immense authority because it operated from within the military 


Syria: A Country Study 

establishment. Reportedly, military intelligence services handled 
radical Palestinian terrorist groups, such as Ahmad Jibril's Popu- 
lar Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command. 
General Khawli and Lieutenant Colonel Sayid were allegedly also 
the paymasters of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, also called 
the Fatah — Revolutionary Council. According to the United States 
Department of State, Syria provided the Abu Nidal organization 
with logistical support and permission to operate facilities in Damas- 
cus (the Syrian government asserts the facilities were limited to cul- 
tural and political affairs). It is also claimed that the Syrian 
government helped the Abu Nidal organization maintain training 
camps in Lebanon's Biqa Valley, an area controlled by Syrian 
armed forces, and supplied travel documents permitting Abu Nidal 
operatives to transit freely through Damascus when departing on 

Western government and intelligence sources admit that they 
cannot pinpoint Assad's complicity in planning terrorist operations 
but consider it unlikely that he was not informed in advance of 
major terrorist acts. If these reports are true, it was equally unlikely 
that Major General Khawli would act without clearing a poten- 
tially risky operation with Assad. 

Various news organizations have claimed that, as part of its over- 
all support network, in the 1980s Syria provided training camps 
for Middle Eastern and international terrorists. There were report- 
edly five training bases near Damascus and some twenty other train- 
ing facilities elsewhere, including the Biqa Valley. In late 1986, 
U.S. News and World Report stated that since October 1983, when 
Israel withdrew from Beirut, large numbers of international ter- 
rorists known to Western intelligence sources have turned up in 
Damascus. These include members of radical Palestinian and 
Lebanese terrorist groups, which depended on Syria for refuge and 
logistical and financial support, as well as other free-lance terrorists. 
Other sources report that a number of other terrorist groups have 
received training in Syrian camps or in Syrian-controlled areas in 
Lebanon including such West European terrorist groups as the Red 
Army Faction (also known as Baader-Meinhof) and the Action 
Directe, as well as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation 
of Armenia, the Japanese Red Army, the Kurdish Labor Party, 
the Pakistani Az Zulfikar, the Tamil United Liberation Front of 
Sri Lanka, the Moro National Liberation Front for the Philippines, 
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, the Democratic 
Front for the Liberation of Somalia, and the Eritrean Liberation 
Front. Furthermore, the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction 
(LARF) was based in the Lebanese village of Qubayat, within the 


area of Syrian control. Syria also permitted Iran to operate train- 
ing camps in eastern Lebanon for the Shia Party of God (Hizbal- 
lah) organization. 

Syria's goal was to employ as surrogates terrorists whose opera- 
tions left few traces to Syria. In June 1986, the Washington Post 
reported that Middle East analysts had noted three distinct kinds 
of relationships between Syria's intelligence and security services 
and terrorist groups. In the first kind of relationship, there was 
direct Syrian involvement because Syrian intelligence created new 
radical Palestinian factions, such as As Saiqa, which were, in effect, 
integrated components of the Syrian armed forces and hence direct 
Syrian agents. The radical Palestinian Abu Musa group, which 
was almost totally dependent on Syria, was another example of such 
a relationship. In the other two kinds of relationships, Syria used 
terrorists as surrogates to avoid direct blame. In the second rela- 
tionship, Syria collaborated with and provided logistical and other 
support to terrorist groups that maintained independent organiza- 
tional identities but were directed by Syrian intelligence, which 
formulated general guidelines as to targets. Reportedly, Abu Nidal's 
Fatah — Revolutionary Council and the LARF were examples of 
such collaboration. The third kind of relationship involved selec- 
tion of free-lance terrorists, mainly Palestinians and Jordanians, 
to carry out a specific operation. Examples of this kind of relation- 
ship included the convicted Lebanese assassin of Bashir Jumayyil, 
Nizar Hindawi, convicted in 1986 of trying to blow up an Israeli 
commercial airliner in London, and Hindawi 's half-brother, Ahmad 
Hasi, convicted of bombing the German- Arab Friendship Society 
office in West Berlin. 

The firmest proof of Syrian sponsorship of terrorism occurred 
at the trials of Hindawi in Britain and Hasi in West Berlin. Evi- 
dence introduced in Britain, and other information not made public, 
linked Hindawi with the Syrian intelligence services. Because of 
the evidence, the British government severed diplomatic relations 
with Syria. Hasi's case implicated Haitham Sayid, deputy chief 
of Syrian Air Force intelligence, for whom an international arrest 
warrant was issued by West Berlin authorities. After Hasi's con- 
viction, the West German government downgraded its relations 
with Syria. 

A series of terrorist explosions in Paris in September 1986 were 
linked to a Marxist Maronite terrorist group, the LARF. LARF 
was implicated in the assassination of a number of American, West 
European, and Israeli diplomats in Western Europe, and its opera- 
tions were reputedly known to Syrian intelligence. In a magazine 
interview in September 1986> Pierre Marion, former director of 


A Country Study 

the French General Directorate of External Security, charged that 
in the early 1980s, Syrian intelligence agents had helped terrorist 
groups to operate in France as part of a Syrian effort to punish 
France for its involvement in Lebanon. 

Although Syrian links to terrorists in Western Europe were rela- 
tively recent, observers believe that Assad has long used terrorism 
to further Syrian policy objectives in the Middle East. Over the 
years, Jordanian officials have accused Syria of assassinating Jor- 
danian diplomats. PLO leaders have accused Syria of the assassi- 
nation of Arafat's chief of staff and close aide, Saad Sayil (also 
known as Abu Walid), killed near a Syrian checkpoint in the Biqa 
Valley in 1982. According to the report by the United States Depart- 
ment of State on "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1983," several 
attacks by members of the Abu Nidal organization reflected Syrian 
opposition toward the pro- Arafat Al Fatah faction of the PLO. In 
1983 these attacks included the assassination at the International 
Conference of Socialists in Portugal of PLO observer Issam Sartawi, 
who had advocated dialogue with Israel. The same report also 
charged Syria with encouraging the radical Shia Lebanese group, 
Islamic Jihad, to carry out the 1983 suicide bombing attacks against 
the United States embassy in Beirut and the headquarters of the 
United States and French contingents of the Multinational Force 
in Beirut, which resulted in 557 casualties. 

The Armed Forces and Society 

Syria's maintenance of a substantial military establishment has 
affected the nation's political, social, and economic development, 
but the military's greatest impact has been on Syrian society's 
political orientation. Except during the first three years of indepen- 
dence, the head of government has been a military officer. From 
March 1949 to November 1970, power struggles among the fac- 
tions of the highly politicized officer corps led to fifteen changes 
of government by military coups and undermined the organiza- 
tional structure and military capability of the armed forces (see After 
Independence, ch. 1). Conversely, the relative political stability 
since Assad assumed power in early 1971 and the regime's emphasis 
on building up the military have contributed to increased profes- 
sionalization of the armed forces. However, the absence of coups 
d'etat between 1971 and 1987 did not indicate the military's decline 
as a political force. In fact, the armed forces remained the main- 
stay of Assad's regime. His success in maintaining their loyalty 
was largely the result of his ability to mobilize popular support for 
his leadership, the creation of a powerful and pervasive domestic 
intelligence and security apparatus, and, until its 1984 reconstitution 


National Security 

as a division, the formation of the Defense Companies. The other 
pillar of Assad's power, the Baath Party, has close associations with 
the armed forces through the party's military branch. Thus the 
army and the party have direct institutional linkages (see The Baath 
Party Apparatus, ch. 4). 

Despite the effectiveness of the military-political interrelation- 
ship, occasional evidence of political dissent within the officer corps 
existed. These problems stemmed from long-standing tensions 
between the Sunni Muslim majority and the minority Alawis who 
held most senior posts. In July 1977, the Manchester Guardian Weekly 
reported that Syrian officials had uncovered within the armed forces 
clandestine organizations believed to have participated in the 
assassination of a number of senior Alawi officers. Such activity, 
if it indeed existed, has important political implications for the future 
of the Assad regime. For example, a power struggle among fac- 
tions centering on personalities among Alawi officers is an ever- 
present danger. Whatever may happen, it seemed clear that the 
armed forces, because of their capability for violent coercion, would 
continue to be the ultimate arbiters of political power in Syria. 

The most significant sociological impact of the armed forces has 
been the social mobility that the officer corps has provided the 
nation's lower classes. Syria's upper classes have consistently dis- 
dained the military as a career. Hence, the majority of cadets and 
officers are of peasant and village origin; a military career has 
afforded them rapid social mobility to positions of political power 
and influence. In 1975 one observer stated that in the view of many 
younger officers, the importance of the military lay as much in its 
role as an instrument for social change as in its military role against 

In particular, the armed forces have been the best vehicle for 
social mobility for Syria's Alawi community. Although they con- 
stitute about 1 1 percent of the population and are traditionally the 
poorest of Syria's ethnic minorities, hundreds of Alawis have risen 
from an impoverished childhood in the rural areas surrounding 
Latakia to the pinnacles of power as military officers. 

While furthering social mobility, the armed forces have had a 
largely negative effect on economic development. For instance, the 
fledgling defense industry has not had much positive impact, either 
as an economic resource or as a source of armaments. Also, the 
military's requirement for increasing numbers of skilled technicians 
and mechanics to maintain and operate a growing inventory of 
modern weapons constitutes a drain on the already limited pool 
of skilled workers; the technical training some conscripts receive 
and use on their return to civilian life has not offset the drain. The 


Syria: A Country Study 

rapid growth of the armed forces from about 80,000 in 1967 to 
500,000 in 1986 inevitably slowed economic growth because of the 
loss of manpower in all sectors of the economy (see Labor Force, 
ch. 3). 

By all standard indicators, the economic burden of defense was 
large. Although government defense expenditures declined dur- 
ing the five years after the June 1967 War, they jumped markedly 
in 1973, beginning a rapid ascent that continued in 1985 and 1986 
(see table 16, Appendix). According to the United States Arms Con- 
trol and Disarmament Agency, from 1982 to 1985, defense expen- 
ditures reportedly grew from US$2.7 billion to US$4.2 billion. 
According to the Syrian government's 1986 Statistical Abstract, 
however, estimated national security expenditures were only US$3.7 
billion. Between 1985 and 1986, defense expenditures were inflated 
by the high cost of maintaining nearly 25,000 troops in Lebanon. 
In 1985, for example, defense expenditures consumed about 30 
percent of all central government expenditures (see Budget, ch. 3). 
In 1986 there were reports that defense would account for over 55 
percent of total government expenditures in Syria's 1987 budget, 
and that government spending on defense was driving Syria into 
heavy debt and an acute economic crisis. 

Syria has consistently ranked among the countries with the 
highest burdens of defense on society. Economic and military 
analysts contended that the Syrian government's growing defense 
expenditures have severely limited expenditures in other areas vital 
to the nation's social and economic progress. According to data 
compiled by Ruth Leger Sivard in World Military and Social Expen- 
ditures, 1986 for example, in 1983 Syrian military expenditures per 
capita were the equivalent of US$249 (ranked twenty-seventh in 
the world), while public expenditures for education were US$102 
(ranked fifty-second) and for health were US$7 (ranked ninety- 

In spite of these figures, observers agreed that the government's 
officially reported defense expenditures markedly understated the 
actual resources devoted to national defense. The same observers 
also suspected that the reported expenditures did not include such 
important items as construction projects for military use. 

Civil Police and Internal Security Apparatus 

Since independence, Syria's police and internal security appara- 
tus have undergone repeated reorganization and personnel changes, 
reflecting the security demands of each succeeding regime. Dur- 
ing the relative political stability of the 1970s and 1980s, police and 
security services were credited with having grown and become 


Syrian infantrymen practicing antiarmor tactics 

professional, but in 1987 only the bare outlines of their institutional 
makeup were known. 

The largest intelligence-gathering and internal security organi- 
zation was the National Security Directorate, employing about 
25,000 personnel. Other security organizations were under the 
supervision of the Ministry of the Interior. These organizations 
included a national police force, responsible for routine police duties. 
It incorporated the 8,000-member Gendarmerie, which had origi- 
nally been organized by the French Mandate authorities to police 
rural areas. During the 1960s, the civil police forces were believed 
to have been used extensively to combat internal security threats 
to the government, but during the 1970s and 1980s, these forces 
assumed a more conventional civil police role; this change in role 
coincided with increased professionalization and the parallel 
development of an effective and pervasive internal security appara- 
tus. Nevertheless, the police continued to receive training in such 
functions as crowd and riot control. 

In 1987 the internal security apparatus consisted of myriad 
organizations with overlapping missions to gather intelligence con- 
cerning internal security and to engage in activities (largely covert) 
to apprehend and neutralize opponents of the regime. According 
to Amnesty International, there were several security force net- 
works in Syria. Each had its own branches, detention cells, and 
interrogation centers, located throughout the country, and each 


Syria: A Country Study 

also had its own intelligence service. Each organization was directly 
responsible to the president and his closest advisers. The organi- 
zations operated independently and had no clear boundaries to their 
areas of jurisdiction and no coordination among them. For exam- 
ple, although the civilian security police dealt with internal security 
matters, the responsibilities of military intelligence headed by 
General Ali Duba were not limited to matters affecting the armed 
forces but also included internal security. In the mid-1980s, Western 
sources reported that the power and pervasiveness of Syria's internal 
security apparatus inspired fear among the Syrian population. 

Crime and Punishment 

Data published in the government's Statistical Abstract do not lend 
themselves to a realistic analysis of Syria's crime problems. The 
total number of persons reported to have been convicted in penal 
cases rose steadily from about 56,000 in 1952 to nearly 275,000 
in 1969 and then dropped dramatically to about 165,000 in 1971, 
at which level it remained through 1975, apparently reflecting 
Assad's loosening of pre-1970 police controls. 

The 1985 statistics, the most recent statistics available in early 
1987, cited a total of 187,944 convictions of Syrian nationals in 
penal cases. Nearly three-fourths of these convictions were for crimes 
and contraventions neither mentioned in the penal code nor fur- 
ther identified. Of the other convictions, the largest category was 
for "crimes against religion and family" (not further defined). 
Other frequent crimes were acts endangering or causing loss of life, 
robbery, insolence, and crimes against public security. 

A rapid increase in crimes against religion and family was the 
only trend discernible in the data for the 1970-85 period. The figures 
for the number of convictions in nineteen other classifications of crime 
remained stable. Accounts of crimes committed in Syria published 
in Western publications were limited to crimes against state security, 
such as assassinations and bombings, and to such crimes as bribery 
and embezzlement as exposed by the Committee for the Investiga- 
tion of Illegal Profits. The latter committee was set up by the govern- 
ment in September 1977 to investigate a reported growth in 
corruption by government officials and business leaders. 

In 1986 petty offenses were tried in magistrate courts, also called 
peace courts, found in all population centers. Courts of the first 
instance, located in twenty-four major urban areas, tried more seri- 
ous crimes and acted as courts of appeal from the magistrate courts 
(see The Judiciary, ch. 4). The courts of appeal heard appeals from 
both lower courts. Juveniles, defined as those between the ages of 
seven and eighteen, were tried in separate juvenile courts. 


National Security 

The Court of Cassation acted as Syria's supreme court. Located 
in Damascus, it reviewed appeals to determine if the lower courts 
had applied the law correctly. If an error were found, the case was 
sent back for retrial to the court of original jurisdiction. 

The judicial system and constitutional rights to some extent were 
abrogated and superseded by martial law imposed when the National 
Council of the Revolutionary Command invoked Syria's State of 
Emergency Law on March 8, 1963. By early 1987, Assad had not 
repealed this condition. The State of Emergency Law provided for 
the selection by the president of a martial law governor (the prime 
minister) and a deputy martial law governor (the minister of the 
interior). Article 4 of the State of Emergency Law empowered the 
martial law governor or his deputy to issue written orders to impose 
restrictions on freedom of individuals with respect to meetings, resi- 
dence, and travel. It sanctioned preventive arrest, censorship, with- 
drawal of licenses for firearms, evacuation or isolation of areas, and 
requisition or sequestration of movable property, real estate, and 
companies, with compensation to be deferred indefinitely. 

Article 6 of the State of Emergency Law defined as violations 
of martial law "offenses against the security of the state and pub- 
lic order, or public authority, and actions which disturb public con- 
fidence, or constitute a general danger." More specifically, Article 
6 prohibited "actions considered incompatible with the implemen- 
tation of the socialist order in the state" and opposition to the unifi- 
cation of the Arab states or any of the aims of the revolution. 
Furthermore, it enjoined communicating with or benefiting from 
any organization or foreign state for the purpose of undertaking 
any action, verbal or physical, that was hostile to the aims of the 
revolution. Article 6 also proscribed attacks on places of worship, 
command centers, military establishments, or other government 
institutions. Finally, currency regulations violations and hoarding 
of or profiteering in foodstuffs fell under martial law. 

Because the 1963 martial law directives gave blanket authority 
to the martial law governor, in 1979 Assad vowed to "apply firmly 
the sovereignty of law" and to "strengthen the authority of the 
judiciary." He issued orders limiting the jurisdiction of the state 
security courts and annulled martial law in cases not actually 
affecting state security. Moreover, the written orders implement- 
ing extraordinary measures were subject to review by the Adminis- 
trative Court of Justice (Majlis ad Dawlah), which had ruled in 
several instances that the martial law governor's powers did not 
exceed the limits specified in Article 4. In such cases, the adminis- 
trative court could rule the martial law governor's actions illegal 
and invalid and award compensation to the injured party. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Martial law offenses were tried at state security courts, whose 
presiding members were appointed by presidential decree. The ver- 
dicts of state security courts were not subject to appeal but were 
ratified by the president, who could suspend or vacate the verdict, 
order a retrial, or reduce the penalty. The decision of the presi- 
dent was irreversible. 

In 1987 criminal and judicial procedures continued to be modeled 
after those of France. Following an arrest, the police presented their 
evidence to a public prosecutor, who conducted his own investiga- 
tion. If the prosecutor decided to proceed, he referred the case to 
the appropriate court. Decisions were made by a majority of the 
three judges of the court, who ruled on questions of law and fact. 
There was no trial by jury. In the mid-1980s, about 90 percent 
of all criminal court cases resulted in a conviction. Although the 
legal code provides for due process, it is not always followed. For 
example, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1986, 
the United States Department of State stated that "under the state 
of emergency in force since 1963 ... an individual may be held 
indefinitely without charge or trial, especially in political and secu- 
rity cases." Penalties were severe. They included loss of civil rights, 
fines, imprisonment for up to life, forced labor, exile, and death 
by hanging or firing squad. Public hangings in Damascus Square 
of convicted thieves, murderers, assassins, and spies continued to 
be a common occurrence in 1987. Amnesty International reported 
that fifteen "officially confirmed executions" took place in 1985. 

Observers have asserted that the Syrian penal system was geared 
toward punishment rather than rehabilitation. In Country Reports 
on Human Rights Practices for 1986, the United States Department 
of State provided little detailed information about prison condi- 
tions but reported that those charged with or convicted of crimi- 
nal offenses have been detained in isolation from those charged with 
political and security offenses. Health care, food, and access by 
family to persons held in ordinary prisons were reported to be ade- 
quate, whereas conditions at prisons where political and security 
prisoners were held were reported to be more severe, and family 
visits were prohibited. In its 1986 human rights report, the Depart- 
ment of State also noted that "there have been numerous credible 
reports of torture, primarily during arrest and interrogation," and 
(referring to the 1985 Amnesty International report) it added that 
"use of torture by the Syrian security forces is routine." 

In 1985 the Syrian government declared two general amnesties, 
but only one benefited political prisoners, covering between 200 
and 500 members of a faction of the banned Muslim Brotherhood 
(see Antiregirne Opposition Movements, this ch.). In 1986 Amnesty 


National Security 

International estimated that there were thousands of political 
prisoners under Syria's state of emergency legislation, including 
290 prisoners of conscience. 

English-language literature on Syrian national security was 
extensive in 1987. Valuable information regarding the develop- 
ment of the Syrian armed forces, their political role, and the 
sociology of the military is contained in the works by Gordon H. 
Torrey, Nikolaos Van Dam, Moshe Ma'oz and Avner Yaniv, John 
F. Devlin, Eliezer Be'eri, J.C. Hurewitz, Itamar Rabinovitch, 
Benedict F. FitzGerald, Amos Perlmutter, and George M. Haddad. 
The most informative and reliable sources on current Syrian 
national security issues are the annual Middle East Military Balance, 
published by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic 
Studies, the annual Middle East Contemporary Survey, published by 
Tel Aviv University's Shiloah Center for Middle Eastern and Afri- 
can Studies, the annual Strategic Survey and The Military Balance, both 
published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and 
the annual World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, published 
by the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. All 
these sources have been widely used for a variety of information, 
particularly on the changing size and equipment inventories of mili- 
tary organizations and national security doctrines and concerns. 
(For complete citations and further information, see Bibliography.) 




1 Metric Conversion Coefficients and Factors 

2 Schools and Students, 1975, 1980, and 1985 

3 Medical Personnel and Hospital Beds, 1975 and 1985 

4 Gross Domestic Product at Market Prices by Sector 

5 Estimated Labor and Employment by Sector, 1970, 1975, and 


6 Summary of Proposed Government Budget Receipts, 1983- 


7 Summary of Proposed Budget Expenditures, 1983-85 

8 Land Use, Selected Years, 1970-84 

9 Production of Agricultural Products, 1981-84 

10 Crude Oil Production and Exports, 1980-1985 

11 Imports and Exports by Use, Selected Years, 1975-84 

12 Balance of Payments, 1980-1985 

13 Major Army Equipment, 1986 

14 Major Navy Equipment, 1986 

15 Major Air Force Equipment, 1986 

16 Budgeted Defense Expenditures, 1981-85 



Table 1. Metric Conversion Coefficients and Factors 

When you know Multiply by To find 

Millimeters 0.04 inches 

Centimeters 0.39 inches 

Meters 3.3 feet 

Kilometers : 0.62 miles 

Hectares (10,000 m 2 ) 2.47 acres 

Square kilometers 0.39 square miles 

Cubic meters 35.3 cubic feet 

Liters 0.26 gallons 

Kilograms 2.2 pounds 

Metric tons 0.98 long tons 

1.1 short tons 

2,204. pounds 

Degrees Celsius 9 degrees Fahrenheit 

(Centigrade) divide by 5 

and add 32 

Table 2. Schools and Students, 1975, 1980, and 1985 

1975 1980 1985 


Primary 6,750 7,689 8,747 

Secondary 1,050 1,330 1,707 


Male 736,478 854,584 1,051,267 

Female 475,092 626,912 872,975 

Total primary 1,211,570 1,481,496 1,924,242 


Male 85,192 97,623 122,912 

Female 34,817 56,241 88,182 

Total secondary 120,009 153,864 211,094 


Male 48,410 70,036 91,917 

Female 12,746 24,731 39,807 

Total university 61,156 94,767 131,224 

*No statistics given for lower secondary schools. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Office of the Prime Minister, Central Bureau 
of Statistics, Syrian Statistical Yearbook, 1986, Damascus: 1986, pp. 339-445. 


ia: A Country Study 

Table 3. Medical Personnel and Hospital Beds, 1975 and 1985 

1975 1985 


Total 2,400 6,163 

Persons per 3,065 1,666 


Total 765 1,975 

Persons per 9,614 5,198 


Total 1,255 2,621 

Persons per 5,861 3,917 

Nurses, total 1,267 8,326 

Midwives, total 877 2,201 

Hospital Beds 

Total 7,479 11,891 

Persons per 995 863 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Office of the Prime Minister, Central Bureau 
of Statistics, Syrian Statistical Yearbook, 1986, Damascus: 1986, pp. 450, 452. 

Table 4. Gross Domestic Product at Market Prices by Sector, 
Selected Years, 1963-85 
(in millions of Syrian pounds) 1 

Sector 1963 1970 1980 1984 1985 2 

Agriculture 3 4,690 3,842 10,369 9,563 10,097 

Industry 4 2,060 4,537 8,373 7,622 7,997 

Construction 752 918 3,574 4,528 4,811 

Trade 3,964 4,802 12,693 14,259 13,750 

Transportation and 

communications 1,273 1,731 3,555 4,698 4,825 

Finance and insurance 1,000 1,420 3,266 3,029 3,035 

Government 1,367 2,416 8,480 11,806 11,371 

Other services 258 371 960 1,208 1,208 

TOTAL 15,364 20,037 51,270 56,713 57,094 

1 For value of the Syrian pound — see Glossary. 
- Provisional 

! Includes forestry and fishing. 

* Includes extractive industries and electric power. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1986, Damascus: 1986, pp. 624-625. 



Table 5. Estimated Labor Force and Employment by 
Sector, 1970, 1975, and 1983 " 
(in thousands) 


1970 1 

1975 2 


Agriculture, forestry and fishing 




Mining and quarrying 








Electricity, gas and water 








Trade (including restaurants and hotels) . . . . 




Transportation, storage and 





Financial services 


. 10 


Community and personal services 




Not Stated 




Total Employed 




Unemployed and seeking first job 








1 Based on full census. 

2 Estimated from sample survey. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1977, Damascus: 1977, pp. 138-139; Central Bank of Syria, Quarterly Bulletin 1984, 
vol. 22, no. 3-4, Damascus: 1984, p. 60; International Labour Organisation, Yearbook 
of Labour Statistics, Geneva: 1985, p. 90. 

Table 6. Summary of Proposed Government Budget Receipts, 1983-1985 
(in millions of Syrian pounds) 1 




Tax revenues 

Business taxes 




Personal income taxes 




Real estate taxes 




Other direct taxes 










Nontax revenues 

Surpluses from public sector 







Other nontax revenues and fees 




Total nontax revenues 




Domestic loans 




Loans and grants 








' For value of the Syrian pound — see Glossary. 

2 Essentially foreign credits and grants to the degree they are included in the budget 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Quarterly Bulletin, vol. 22, 
no. 3-4, Damascus: 1984, p. 47; Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1985, Damascus, 1985, p. 477. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Table 7. Summary oj Proposed Budget Expenditures, 1983-85 
(in millions of Syrian pounds)* 

Ministry or Agency 




Administrative, legislative and judicial 




National security 




9 09C 

9 9 c 1 

5, jjI 


Social welfare 




Economy and finance - 










Transportation and public works 



















*For value of the Syrian pound — see Glossary. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1985, Damascus: 1985, pp. 470-476; and Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Quarterly 

Bulletin, No. 3-4, Damascus: 1984, p. 46. 

Table 8. Land Use, Selected Years, 1970-84 
(in thousands of hectares) 

Kind of Land 









Steppe and Pasture 1 





Uncultivable Land 
























Under crops 





..... 451 



618 2 





Specified Crops 

...... 2,502 













. , . . . 115 









Other industrial crops 










1 Some land reclassified after 1974. 

2 Data as given although less than shown by kinds of crops. 

Source: Based on Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 1977, Damascus: 
1977; Statistical Abstract 1985, pp. 124, 132, 137, 141. 



Table 9. Production of Agricultural Products, 1981-84 
(in thousands of tons) 



























Sugar Beets 






























Washed wool 















*In millions. 

Source: Based on information 

from Syria, Central Bank 

of Syria, 

Quarterly Bulletin, 

no. 3-4, 

Damascus: 1984, pp. 47-54 

Table 10. Crude Oil Production and Export, 1980-1985 

Production Value of Crude Exports Crude Oil 

Year (barrels per day) (in millions of Syrian pounds)* Exports 

1980 166,000 5,235 68.9 

1981 158,000 5,044 63.1 

1982 166,000 4,082 61.1 

1983 168,000 4,131 51.3 

1984 161,000 3,608 49.6 

1985 n.a. n.a. n.a. 

n.a. — not available 

*For value of Syrian pound — see Glossary. 

Source: Based on information from International Monetary Fund, International Financial 
Statistics Yearbook, 1986, Washington: 1986, p. 645; and Economist Intelligence Unit, 
Country Profile: Syria 1986, London: 1986, pp. 26-31. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Table 11. Imports and Exports fry Use, Selected Years, 1975-84 
(in millions of Syrian pounds) 1 





Imports 2 









Investment goods 





Total imports 






Raw materials 





Products for further processing 









Total exports 





1 For value of the Syrian pound — see Glossary. 

2 Probably excludes items for defense. 

Source: Based on information from Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Abstract 
1977, Damascus: 1977, pp. 338-39; Syria, Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical 
Abstract 1985, Damascus: 1985, pp. 278-79. 

Table 12. Balance of Payments, 1980-1985 
(in millions of United States dollars) 

1980 1981 1982 1983 1987 

Goods and Services 

Exports of goods (f.o.b.)* .... 
Imports of goods (f.o.b.)* . . . 

Services (net) 

Private Transfers (net) 

Government Grants (net) .... 
Total Goods and 


Long-term capital 

Short-term capital 

Balance of capital account 

Errors and omissions 

Counterpart items 

Changes in resources 

*f.o.b. — free on board 

Source: Based on information from International Monetary Fund, International Financial 
Statistics Yearbook 1986, Washington: 1986, p. 645. 















Table 13. Major Army Equipment, 1986 

Type Designation Quantity 



High quality T-72/Improvcd T-72 1,000 

T-62 1,000 

Medium quality T-55 2,100 

Armored personnel 

carriers BMP-1 1,500 

Armored reconnaissance \ 

vehicles BTR-152 1 

BTR-40/-50/-60 ( 2,000 

OT-64 \ 

BRDM-2 j 

TOTAL: 7,600 


Guns and heavy mortars 180mm S-23 gun 

152mm M-1973 howitzer 
152mm M-1943 howitzer 
130mm M-46 gun 
122mm M-1974 howitzer 
122mm D-30 howitzer 
240mm mortar 

160mm mortar TOTAL: 1,200 

Antitank weapons Sagger 




missiles and rockets FROG-7 23 

SS-1 (Scud B) 18 
SS-21 12 


short-range missiles SA-14/-13/-9/-7 11 


short-range guns ZSU 57-2SP; 

ZSU 23-4 SP;ZU 23-2 TOTAL: 1,000 


Syria: A Country Study 

Table 13. (Continued) 






long-range missiles 










Interceptor aircraft . . . 





n.a. — not available 

Source: Based on information from Mark Heller, Aharon Levran, and Ze'ev Eytan,77^ 
Middle East Military Balance, 1985, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1986, 
pp. 239-40, 243; International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 
1986-1987, London: 1986. 

Table 14. 

Major Navy Equipment 





. . . . Petya-1 class 


Fast patrols boats with Styx 

. . . . Komar class 


Osa I class 


Osa II class 



Vanya class minesweeper 




P-4 class MTB 


Patrol craft 

CH class 130.9 ft. 




Nanuchka missile 

corvettes (on order) 


SS-N2 Styx SSM 


Coastal defense 

. . . . Sepal ground-to-sea 



n.a. — not available 

Source: Based on information from Mark Heller, Aharon Levran, and Ze'ev Eytan, The 
Middle East Military Balance, 1985, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1986, 
pp. 243-44; International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 
1986-1987, London: 1986. 



Table 15. Major Air Force Equipment, 1986 

Type Designation Quantity 

Fighter/ground attack MiG-23S/U (Floggcr) 

MiG-27 (Floggcr D) \ TOTAL: 190 

Su-20 (Fitter C) ) 

^cL^ I TOTAL: 100 

Su-7B (Fitter A) ) 

Interceptors MiG-25/-25R (Foxbat) 50 

MiG-21MF/S/U (Fishbed) 310 

Transports An-24/26 (Coke/Curl) 

IL-14 (Crate) 

IL-18 (Coot) / I .\L "> _ 

IL-76 (Unconfirmed) 
Mystcrc Falcon 20 
Yak-40 (Codling) 

Trainers L-29 Dclfin 60 

L-39 Albatross 40 
Piper Navajo 2 

Flamingo 48 
Yak-11 (Moose) n.a. 
Yak-18 (Max) " n.a. 

Attack helicopters Mi-24/Mi-25 (Hind) 45 

SA-342 Gazelle 45 

Medium transport helicopters . . Mi-8 (Hip) 110 

Mi-4 (Hound) 10 
Mi-2 (Hoplitc) 10 

Antisubmarine warfare 

helicopters Kamov Ka-25 (Hormone) 5 

Mi-14 (Haze) 10 

n.a. — Not available 

Source: Based on information from Mark Heller, Aharon Levran, and Ze'ev Eytan, The 
Middle East Military Balance, 1985, Boulder, Colorado: Westvicw Press, 1986, p. 242; 
International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 1986-1987, Lon- 
don: 1986. 


Syria: A Country Study 

Table 16. Budgeted Defense Expenditures, 1981-85 
(in United States Dollars) 


(in millions) 

per capita 



Middle East 

































*GNP — gross national product. 

Source: Based on information from United States, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 
World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1986. Washington, 1987, p. 95. 



Chapter 1 

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Syria: A Country Study 

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A Country Study 

Chapter 5 

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Syria: A Country Study 

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ton Post.) 



Alawi(s) — Member of a Shia (q. v.) sect that is the largest religious 
minority in Syria. President Hafiz al Assad and many other 
leaders of the ruling political party are adherents. Alawis believe 
in divine incarnation and the divinity of Ali, and hence they 
are viewed as heretical by most other Muslims. 

Alawite — See Alawi. 

amir — Literally, commander. Frequently used as title by tribal 
chief. Also used by rulers of principalities or small states and 
governors of provinces. In Saudi Arabia and elsewhere used 
by princes of the royal family. 

barrels — See barrels per day. 

barrels per day — Production of crude oil and petroleum products 
is frequently measured in barrels per day. A barrel is a volume 
measure of forty-two United States gallons. Conversion of bar- 
rels to metric tons depends on the density of the special product. 
About 7.3 barrels of average crude oil weigh one metric ton. 
Heavy products would be about seven barrels per metric ton. 
Light products, such as gasoline and kerosene, would average 
close to eight barrels per metric ton. 

currency — See Syrian pound. 

Druze(s) — Member of a religious community located in the south- 
ern part of Syria that is the third largest religious group of the 
country. Druze beliefs contain elements of Shia (q.v.) Islam, 
Christianity, and paganism. 

fiscal year (FY) — Same as calendar year since 1963. 

GDP (gross domestic product) — A value measure of the flow of 
domestic goods and services produced by an economy over a 
period of time, such as a year. Only output values of goods 
for final consumption and intermediate production are assumed 
to be included in final prices. GDP is sometimes aggregated 
and shown at market prices, meaning that indirect taxes and 
subsidies are included; when these have been eliminated, the 
result is GDP at factor cost. The word gross indicates that 
deductions for depreciation of physical assets have not been 
made. See also GNP. 

GNP (gross national product) — GDP {q.v.) plus the net income 
or loss stemming from transactions with foreign countries. GNP 
is the broadest measurement of the output of goods and ser- 
vices by an economy. It can be calculated at market prices, 
which include indirect taxes and subsidies. Because indirect 


Syria: A Country Study 

taxes and subsidies are only transfer payments, GNP is often 
calculated at factor cost, removing indirect taxes and subsidies. 
Greater Syria — Term used by historians and others to designate 
the region that includes approximately the present-day states 
of Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria before those states were 

hadith — Tradition based on the precedent of the Prophet Muham- 
mad's nondivinely revealed deeds and words that serves as one 
of the sources of Islamic law (sharia). 

hijra — Literally, to migrate, to sever relations, to leave one's tribe. 
Throughout the Muslim world, hijra refers to the migration 
of Muhammad and his followers to Medina. In this sense the 
word has come into European languages as hegira and is usually 
and somewhat misleadingly translated as flight. 

Imam — A word used in several senses. In general use and lower- 
cased, it means the leader of congregational prayers; as such, 
it implies no ordination or special spiritual powers beyond suffi- 
cient education to carry out this function. It is also used figura- 
tively by many Sunni (q. v. ) Muslims to mean the leader of the 
Islamic community. Among Shias (q. v. ) the word takes on many 
complex and controversial meanings; in general, however, when 
capitalized, it indicates the particular descendant of the House 
of Ali who is believed to have been God's designated repository 
of the spiritual authority inherent in that line. The identity of 
this individual and the means of ascertaining his identity have 
been the major issues causing divisions among Shias. 

International Monetary Fund (IMF) — Established along with the 
World Bank (q.v.) in 1945, the IMF is a specialized agency 
affiliated with the United Nations and is responsible for stabiliz- 
ing international exchange rates and payments. The main busi- 
ness of the IMF is the provision of loans to its members 
(including industrialized and developing countries) when they 
experience balance of payments difficulties. These loans fre- 
quently carry conditions that require substantial internal eco- 
nomic adjustments by the recipients, most of which are 
developing countries. 

Ismaili(s) — Member(s) of a branch of Shia (q.v.) Islam. Ismailis 
recognize seven Imams (q.v.) and venerate Ismail as the 
Seventh; other Shias recognize Musa al Kazim as the Seventh 
Imam. Ismailis are often called Seveners, and other Shias are 
known as Twelvers. 

jihad — The struggle to establish the law of God on earth, often 
interpreted to mean holy war. 



shaykh — Leader or chief. Word of Arabic origin used to mean a 
tribal, political, or learned religious leader. Also used as an 

Shia (or Shiites, from Shiat Ali, the Party of Ali) — A member of 
the smaller of the two great divisions of Islam. The Shias sup- 
ported the claims of Ali and his line to presumptive right to 
the caliphate and leadership of the Muslim community, and 
on this issue they divided from the Sunnis (q.v.). Shias revere 
Twelve Imams, the last of whom is believed to be hidden from 

Shiite — See Shia. 

Sunni (from sunna, orthodox) — A member of the larger of the two 
great divisions of Islam. The Sunnis supported the traditional 
method of election to the caliphate and accepted the Umayyad 
line. On this issue they divided from the Shias (q.v.) in the first 
great schism within Islam. 

Syrian pound (LS) — Has consisted of 100 piasters since first issued 
by the French in 1920. Par value of LS2 . 1 9 to US$ 1 was estab- 
lished with the IMF in 1947. Par value was the official exchange 
rate until 1954 when it became LS3.58 to US$1. In the 1960s 
and 1970s the official exchange rate ranged between LS3.82 
to US$1 in 1962 to LS3.95 to US$1 in 1978. In 1981 Syria 
returned to a multitier exchange rate, establishing a parallel 
rate for the pound to float freely against major world curren- 
cies. In 1987 there were four government-established exchange 
rates for the Syrian pound: the official rate (used for imports) 
was LS3.92 to US$1; the parallel rate (used for commercial 
ventures) was LS5.40 to US$1; the tourist rate (used by tourists 
but also diplomats and for commercial transactions) was LS9.75 
to US$1; and the "neighboring country" rate (private sector 
imports and the trading rate of the pound in other countries 
and illegally inside Syria) was LS21.50 to US$1. 

World Bank — Informal name used to designate a group of three 
affiliated international institutions: the International Bank for 
Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International 
Development Association (IDA), and the International Finance 
Corporation (IFC). The IBRD, established in 1945, has the 
primary purpose of providing loans to developing countries for 
productive projects. The IDA, a legally separate loan fund but 
administered by the staff of the IBRD, was set up in 1960 to 
furnish credits to the poorest developing countries on much 
easier terms than those of conventional IBRD loans. The IFC, 
founded in 1956, supplements the activities of the IBRD 
through loans and assistance specifically designed to encourage 


Syria: A Country Study 

the growth of productive private enterprises in the less devel- 
oped countries. The president and certain senior officers of the 
IBRD hold the same positions in the IFC. The three institu- 
tions are owned by the governments of the countries that sub- 
scribe their capital. To participate in the World Bank group, 
member states must first belong to the International Monetary 
Fund (IMF — q. v ). 
Yazidi(s) — Member(s) of a small religious group. The religion is 
little known to outsiders but contains elements of Islam, Juda- 
ism, and Christianity and also includes the veneration of the 
Peacock Angel. 


Abadah, 78 

Abbasids, 4, 11-12, 95 
Abdul Hamid II, 18, 95 
Abdullah, 20 
Abu Ali Hasan, 12 
Abu Bakr, 10, 90 
Abu Musa, 251 

Abu Nidal, 223, 243-44, 251, 272, 274; 

training camps, 272 
Administrative Court of Justice (Majlis 

ad Dawlah), 279 
Aflaq, Michel, 32, 34, 35, 195, 196-97, 


Aga Khan, 95 

Agricultural Cooperative Bank, 137-38, 

agriculture (see also cotton; irrigation; land 
reform), xiv, xxi, 56, 77, 109, 125, 
127-28; barley, xiv; budget, 119, 124, 
127, 128, 129-30, 145; cereals, 56; 
cooperatives, 136, 139-40; cultivation, 
135; drainage, 111, 127, 135; expan- 
sion, 110; financing, 137-38, 141; gov- 
ernment role, 137-40, 145-46; gross 
domestic product (GDP), xiv, 112, 
129-30; labor force, 112, 127; land 
reclamation, 111, 130; marketing orga- 
nizations, 138; mechanization of, 110; 
outlook, 145-46; price controls, 128, 
138-39, 141; rainfall, 140; research 
projects, 141; sugar beets, 143, 157; 
wheat, xiv, 139, 141 
Al Ahd (The Covenant), 18 
Ahmad, Ahmad Iskander, 210 
Ahmar, Abdallah al, 206, 212, 222 
air force, xvi; air bases, 259; combat air- 
craft, xvii, 259; manpower, 259; ori- 
gins, 237; pilot shortages, 38; training, 
262; uniforms and rank insignia, 264 
Air Force Academy, 262 
airports and aviation, 173, 177-78 
Akkad, 6 

Alawis, xvi, 17, 26, 62, 86, 96-97; attacks 
from Muslim Brotherhood, 45; and the 
Baath Party, 36, 37; Christian ele- 
ments, 96; kin-groups, 97; and the mili- 
tary, xxii, 275; political domination, 
xx, 255-56; religious beliefs, 97 

Aleppo, xxii, xx, 6, 12, 16, 44, 68, 69, 
86, 100, 129, 133; 1945 demonstrations 
in, 26; population, 58; religious settle- 
ments, 86 

Alexander the Great, xix, 7, 96 

Alexandretta (see also Iskenderun), 24, 27, 
253; self-government, 24 

Algeria, 143, 163 

Ali, 10, 90, 91, 94, 97 

Ali, Ali ibn Abid al, 44 

Ali, Shaykh Salih ibn, 21 

alphabet, 7; Armenian, 68 

Amal, 249 

American Petroleum Institute (API), 147 
Amir, Abdul Hakim, 30 
Amu Darya, 4 
Amuda, 66, 86 

Ancient Syria. See Greater Syria 
Anti-Lebanon Mountains, 55 
Antioch, 8 
Arab Academy, 19 

Arab countries (see also names of individual 
countries), xv; imports, 162, 163; rela- 
tionship, 29, 39, 41 

Arab Cultural Unity Agreement, 101 

Arab Democratic Party, 270 

Arab Deterrent Force (ADF), 42, 164, 

Arab Fund for Economic and Social 
Development, 160, 167 

Arab-Israeli conflict (see also June 1967 
War, October 1973 War, and names of 
individual countries;), xvi, xxiii, 186, 
220-22; 1948 War, 197; economic 
effects, 110; foreign policy, 220 

Arab League (League of Arab States), 26, 
237, 248, 252 

Arab Legion, 238 

Arab Liberation Army, 238 

Arab Liberation Movement (ALM), 28 

Arab National Movement, 20 

Arab Satellite Organization (ARAB- 
SAT), 178 

Arab Socialist Party (ASP), 41, 197-98 

Arab Summits: Baghdad, 1978, 165-66, 
267; Fez, Morocco, 1982, 221 

Arabian Peninsula, 18 

Arabs, 62, 64-65; attitude to non-Arabs, 
64-65; and language, 65 


Syria: A Country Study 

Arafat, Yasir, 251, 271 

Aram, 7 

Aramaeans, 7 

architecture, 74 

Argov, Shlomo, 244 

armed forces, xvi-xvii; Air Defense Com- 
mand, 258-59; and Alawis, xxii, 275; 
anticorruption and antismuggling cam- 
paign, 210-11; as antiregime threat, 
254; and Baath Party membership, 
203, 260-61; Border Guard (Desert 
Guard, Frontier Force), 259; British 
influence, 237; budget, xvii, 1 19, 122, 
128, 185, 213, 276; chemical weapons, 
258; command structure, 258; com- 
mando forces, 205; and communists, 
29; conditions of service, 262-63; con- 
scription and recruitment, xxiv, 17, 
260-61; development of the, 10-11, 26, 
235-37; economic aspects, 164; equip- 
ment, xvii, 257, 258; foreign influences, 
264-68; inferiority of, 233, 238-39, 
240, 247; manpower, xvii, 257, 258, 
276; military advisers and technicians, 
267; military discipline, 263-64; mili- 
tary reforms, 210-11; military tradi- 
tion, 235, 240; and minorities, xxii, 17, 
261; morale, 233, 250, 263; officer 
rivalries, 275; political department, 
258; politicization, 4, 260-61, 274; 
prestige, 71; professionalism, 242, 243, 
274; Republican Guard, 209; reserves, 
260, 262; Soviet influence, 257, 
266-68; standard of living, xxii; and 
Sunnis, 206-7; Third Division, 209; 
training, 260, 261-62, 266; uniforms 
and rank insignia, 264; women, 260 

Armenians, xx, 24, 62, 67-68; language, 

Asian, Ali, 208, 258 

Assad, Adnan al, 205 

Assad, Basil al, 212 

Assad, Fawwaz al, 205 

Assad, Hafiz al, xix, xxi; and amnesty, 
213; and Arab regional leadership, 185, 
247; Assad Doctrine, 220-29 passim; 
and the Baath Party, 33, 35, 36, 201, 
202, 275; and corruption, 210-11, 213; 
divide-and-rule strategy, 206; domina- 
tion of government, 42, 206; and the 
economy, 213; elected president, 40; 
and foreign policy, 42, 212-13, 220-29 
passim; and Jordan, 241, 248, 250; and 

Lebanon, 42; and military control, 205, 
254, 274; and personal publicity, 212; 
pre-1970 political appointments, 37, 38; 
and the private sector, 71, 213; and 
regional hegemony, 234, 241, 245; 
reorganization of government, 1971, 
40; 1984, 208, 209-10; 1985, 214-15; 
reputation and popularity, xxiii, 43-44, 
213; security force, 270; and succession, 
209; supporters, 205-09 passim; and ter- 
rorism, xxiii, 272, 274; visit to Mos- 
cow, 268 

Assad, Jamil al, 205, 209 

Assad, Rifaat al, 208; attempts at succes- 
sion, 209, 210; and Defense Compa- 
nies, xxi, 205, 211, 269; and Jordan, 
252-53; political appointments, 188, 
206, 212, 257-58 

Assassins, 95 

Assyrian Empire, xix, 6, 7 
Assyrians, 24, 69; religion, 69 
astronomy, 8 

Atassi, Hashim al, 22, 24, 28 
Atassi, Jamal, 41 

Atassi, Nureddin, 33, 37, 38, 255, 268 

Atrash, Sultan Pasha al, 22 

Attar, Issam al, 256 

Attar, Najah al, 207 

Ayyubi, Mahmud al, 41, 43, 209 

Ayyubid Dynasty, 14 

Azm, Khalid al, 24, 27, 32 

Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) 
Party, xxi, 20, 29, 32, 34, 40, 42, 199, 
201-04, 212-13; and the 1963 revolu- 
tion, 34, 72, 199; and Alawis, 36, 37; 
and beduin nomads, 78; Central Com- 
mittee, 201, 202; civilian-military 
factions, 35-38 passim, 203; and Com- 
munists, 198; constitution, 196; and 
Druzes, 36, 37; economic strategy, 109; 
and education, 101, 103, 204; factional 
differences, 34-38 passim, 203; and for- 
eign policy, 196; Inspection and Con- 
trol Committee, 203; and Iraq, 46, 250; 
and Marxists, 35-36; and the military, 
xvi, 36, 213, 260-61, 275; Military 
Committee, 36, 275; and Muslim 
Brotherhood, xx; National Command, 
34, 35, 36, 37, 201; and nationalism, 
20, 196; and neo-Baathists, 33-37; 
organizational structure, 202-04; 



origins, 195-96; and pan-Arabism, 20, 
201, 217; Party Security Law, 203; 
Presidency Council, 37; principles and 
ideology, xxiii, 52, 53, 196-97; recruit- 
ment, 201, 203-04; redirections, 1966, 
1970, 37-40; Regional Command, 
xxiv, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 202, 212; and 
violence, 33, 37 

Baath Dam, 133, 156 

Al Baath University, 103 

Bab al Faraj, 69 

Badran, Mudir, 270 

Baghdad, 165-66, 267 

Baghdad Pact, 266 

Bakdash, Khalid, 38, 41, 204, 254 

Bakri, Ibrahim, 255 

balance of payments {see also budget; for- 
eign investment), xv, 46, 162, 164-68; 
foreign exchange reserves, 164; workers 
abroad, remittances, 109, 164, 165, 
166, 172 

Balfour Declaration of 1917, 19, 27, 237 

Balikh River, 56, 131 

Baniyas, xv, 151, 154 

Bank of Syria and Lebanon, 168 

banks and banking, 115, 118, 121, 128, 
168-72; accounts, 170; assets, 169; cur- 
rency smuggling, 172; foreign banks, 
169; inflation, 171; letters of credit, 
172; loans, 137-38, 170; monetary 
policy, 169-71; nationalization, 169 

Barada River, 56 

Barakat, Adnan, 269 

Barazi, Muhsin al, 27 

Base Organization, 255 

beduin nomads, 17, 52, 65, 73, 74; 
government settlement policy, 78; 
majlis, 80; marriage, 82; and national- 
ism, 216; religion, 92; and sheep rais- 
ing, 143-44; tribal structure, 78-80 

Beirut, 20, 244, 245, 248, 249 

Berri, Nabih, 213 

Biqa Valley, xxi, 20, 46, 243, 244, 251 
Bitar, Salah ad Din al, 32-35 passim, 37, 

195, 196-97, 199 
Black September, 39, 241 
Blum, Leon, 23 

Britain, 25, 42, 133; Middle East inter- 
vention, 18-20; military aid, 267 

budget {see also balance of payments), 
118-23; administrative costs, 122; agri- 
culture, 119, 124, 127, 128, 129-30, 
145; defense, xvii, 119, 122, 128, 185, 

213, 276; deficit, 120, 170; develop- 
ment planning, 120, 123-29; expendi- 
tures, 1 19, 122-23; health, 104; 
housing, 127; industry, 124-29 passim; 
mining, 120; public debt, 120, 122-23, 
166; revenues, 119, 120-22, 150, 160 

Bulgaria, 163 

Busra ash Sham, 8 

Butainat, 78 

Byzantine Empire, xix, 3, 8-10, 235 
Byzantium, 8, 10 

calendar, 87, 89 
caliphs, xix, 10-14 

Camp David Agreements, 220, 234, 268 

Canaanites, xix, 6 

Carthage, 7 

Central Bank, 168 

Central Bureau of Statistics, 126 

Central Committee. See Baath (Arab 

Socialist Resurrection) Party 
Chamber of Deputies, 28 
China, 219, 267 

Christianity, xiv, 3, 9, 11, 12, 16, 20, 85, 
98-100; Armenian Catholics, 64, 68; 
Armenian Orthodox, 68, 99; crusades, 
12, 14, 95; doctrines, 98-99; and edu- 
cation, 85, 100; and emigration, 52; 
and family size, 81; geographical dis- 
tribution, 86; Greek Orthodox, 9,15, 
16, 64, 99; and Islamic Arab tradition, 
64, 99; Maronites, 16, 20, 99; and mar- 
riage, 82-83; Monophysites, 98-99; 
Monothelites, 99; monuments, 9; Nes- 
torian, 69, 98, 99; Roman Catholics, 
98, 99; sects, 98-99; social differences 
from Muslims, 99-100; Syrian Ortho- 
dox, 7, 99; Uniate churches, 98, 99; 
and Western influence, 73 

Churchill, Winston, 26 

Circassians, xx, 68-69 

civil bureaucracy: corruption and bribery, 
71, 213, 278; employment problems, 
114; and family solidarity, 81; labor 
force, 113, 114; overstaffing, 113 

civil rights, 27, 187, 280 

climate, 53, 57-58 passim 

Commercial Bank of Syria, 169, 172 

Committee for the Investigation of Ille- 
gal Profits, 44, 278 

communications. See telecommunications 


Syria: A Country Study 

Communist Party Political Bureau 
(CPPB), 254-55 

Communists, 29, 30, 38; merger with 
Baath Party, 198; under the United 
Arab Republic (UAR), 198 

Constantine, 8 

Constantinople, 8, 12 

Constituent Assembly, 28, 32 

Constitutional Assembly, 32 

constitutional developments (see also Per- 
manent Constitution of March 13, 
1973), xvi, 19, 21, 22, 41, 187-88; 
1950, 135; 1953, 28; 1958, 30; 1964, 34 

Corrective Movement, 194, 200, 255 

cotton, xiv, 56, 138, 141-43; exports, 
162-63; government control, 117; price 
controls, 117; production, 142 

Cotton Marketing Organization, 138 

Council of Chalcedon, 98 

Council of State, 192 

Council of War, 27 

Council on Money and Credit, 168, 169 

coups, 27-28, 35, 197, 198-99, 199, 274; 
and national security, 234; 1949, 71, 
93, 239; 1970, xix, 199-200, 241; 
1961-70, 31-33 passim, 37, 38, 199; 23 
February Movement attempts, 256 

Court of Cassation, 192, 279 

courts. See judicial system 

crime. See judicial system 

crops and cropping patterns (see also agri- 
culture), 139-43 

crude oil and petroleum (see also natural 
gas), xiv-xv, 56, 112, 120, 141, 147; 
domestic consumption, 149; exports, 
162; foreign exploration and develop- 
ment, 147-49, 151, 152; gross domes- 
tic product (GDP), 149; nationalization, 
147; oil fields, 147-49; pipelines, xv, 
xxii, 121-22, 147, 150-51; price slump, 
xxii; production, 147, 149; refineries, 
140, 151; transit fees, 121-22, 150-51, 

Crusades, xix, 3, 12, 14, 95 

currency and exchange rates, xv, 172; for- 
eign exchange crisis, 119, 171; French 
period, 21; Syrian pound, 119, 168 

Czechoslovakia, 266; energy contracts, 
151, 152; financial assistance, 167 

Damascus, xv, xix, 69; 1945 demon- 
strations, 26; administration, 193; as 
capital of Islamic empire, 4, 11; as 

capital of Phoenicia Secunda, 8; dur- 
ing Ottoman Empire, 15; population, 
58, 60; religious settlements, 86 
dams, 131-33 

Dar' a Province, 141, 192; population, 58, 


Darazi, Muhammad ibn Ismail ad, 98 

Dawalibi, Maruf, 31 

Dawasin. See Yazidis 

Dayr az Zawr Province, 192; oil, xiv-xv 

Dayr Siman, 9 

de Gaulle, Charles, 25, 26 

defense and security. See armed forces; 
national security 

Defense Companies (Saraya ad Difa), xxi, 
205, 209, 210, 211, 269-70, 275; 
absorbed into regular army, 212; man- 
power and equipment, 269; military 
actions, 269-70; recruitment, 269 

Democratic Front for the Liberation of 
Palestine, 251 

demography. See population 

Dentz, Henri, 24 

development plans, 54; budget for, 

123- 29; and education, 102; expendi- 
tures, 122; fifth, 127-29, 160, 163; 
financing, 121, 124, 133, 164, 167; 
first, 124, 156; fourth, 126-27, 132, 
173; planning structure, 126; second, 

124- 25; sixth, 120, 129, 160; structure, 
123-24; third, 125-26 

Diab, Ahmad, 212, 208 

Dimashq Province, 192, 193 

Din, Mahdi Shams ad, 213 

Druzes, xiv, xx, 16, 17, 21, 28, 86, 97-98; 
1925 revolution, 22; and the Baath 
Party, 36, 37; historical antecedents, 
12; religious beliefs, 97-98; uprising, 
1860, 16 

Duba, Ali, 208, 271, 278 

Eastern Europe (see also under names of 
individual countries), xv, 163; military 
aid, 266, 267; relationship under 
Assad, 42 

Eastern Legion (La Legion d'Orient), 236 
Ebla, 5-6 

economy, xiv-xv, xxi, xxiii-xxiv, 31, 46; 
ancient Syria, 6; balance of payments, 
xxiii, 46, 141, 162, 164-68; black mar- 
ket, 171-72; commercial laws, 27; com- 
modity pricing, 171; Constitutional 



principles, 188; development planning, 
109, 123-29; economic liberalization 
policy, 109; fiscal administration, 118- 
23; free-trade zones, 116; government 
role, 115-18, 157-60 passim; gross 
domestic product (GDP), xiv, 110, 111, 
116, 120, 125, 127, 128, 160; growth, 
110-12, 158-59; historical develop- 
ments, 16; inflation, 54, 171; military 
costs, xxii, 250, 275-76; monetary 
policy, 169-71; nationalizations 1960s, 
109; 1980s, 110; 1970s, 109-110; out- 
look, 180-81; private sector, 110, 115, 
116,. 117, 125, 137, 145, 159-60; pro- 
tective tariffs and subsidies, 28, 156, 
157-58; public sector, 111, 112, 115, 
116, 117, 125, 127, 146-47, 157, 160; 
and socialism, 43, 115; structure, 110- 
12; unemployment, 114; workers 
abroad, remittances, 109, 164, 165, 
166, 172 

education, 101-03, 112, 188; Baath Party 
school system, 204; Christian schools, 
85; enrollment, 102; expenditures, 276; 
government objectives, 53, 101; histori- 
cal developments, 19; and indoctrina- 
tion, 101; Jewish schools, 70; literacy, 
xiv, 53, 103; minorities, 53; mosque- 
affiliated schools, 93; secular, 72, 84; 
and Sunnis, 93; universities, xiv, 102- 
03; and upward mobility, 103 

Egypt {see also United Arab Republic 
(UAR)): October 1973 War goals, 241- 
2; and education, 101; historical rela- 
tionship, 5, 6; Israeli confrontations, 
239-42; military training, 268 

electoral laws, 28 

electric power. See energy 

emigration: Armenians, 68; Assyrians, 
69; Jews, 69 

employment. See labor force 

energy {see also crude oil and petroleum; 
natural gas), 111, 127, 128, 153-56; cri- 
sis, 155-56; hydroelectric power produc- 
tion, 154; labor force, 152; nuclear, 155; 
power stations, 154-55; rural electrifi- 
cation projects, 155; solar, 155 

Euphrates Dam, 56, 118, 125, 154, 167; 
and Iraq, 251 

Euphrates River, 27, 56, 68, 130, 131, 
132-33, 135, 154; usage rights, 250-51 

European Economic Community (EEC), 

European Investment Bank, 167 

Evacuation Day, 26 

exchange rates, xxiii, 172 

exports, xxiii, 109, 160, 162-63; cotton, 
xv, 141, 143, 162-63; crude oil, xv, 
128, 162; petroleum, 162; phosphates, 
xv, 152, 163; tobacco, 143 

Fadan Kharsah, 78 

Fadan Walad, 78 

Fahoum, Khalid al, 213 

family: crimes against, 278; honor, 80, 
84; household size, 81; kinship culture, 
80-82 passim; loyalty, 81; marriage and 
divorce, 80, 82-83, 94 

Al Fatah, 251, 273 

Al Fatat. See Al Jamiyyah al Arabiyah al 

Fatimids, 95 

Faysal, Yusuf, 205 

Fayyad, Shafiq al, 208, 209, 210 

Federal Republic of Germany (West Ger- 
many), 42, 267; development assis- 
tance, 167-68 

Federation of Arab Republics (FAR), 41, 

fellahin, 71, 73 
fishing, 239 

foreign aid, 109, 120, 122, 124, 126, 128, 
164, 165, 167; Arab states, 43, 110, 
165; European Investment Bank, 167; 
Romania, 133; Saudi Arabia, 46; 
.Soviet Union, 133; United Nations, 
167; World Bank, 167 

foreign investment, 16, 109, 110, 116, 
128; Arab states, 127; tourism, 160 for- 
eign loans, 165, 166 

foreign policy, xxiv, 46-47, 212-13; 
Arab-Israeli conflict, xvi; Arab states, 
xvi; under Assad, 41, 42; attitude 
toward foreign ideologies, 218-19; and 
the Baath Party, 196; goals, 241; Iran 
and Iraq, 224-25; Israel, 220-22; Jor- 
dan, 223; Lebanon, xvi, 222-23; non- 
alignment, 219; Palestinians, 224; 
pan-Arab ideology, xx, xxiii, 217-18; 
and regional politics, 220; rejection of 
the West, 219; Soviet Union, 227-29; 
United States, 225-27 

foreign rule: Abbasids, 11-12; ancient 
Syria, 6-8, 235; Byzantine Empire, 
xix-xx, 8-10, 235; French period, 


Syria: A Country Study 

20-26; Ottoman Empire, 14-18; West- 
ern interventions, 16-26 

France, 16, 19, 20, 133; armed forces, 
236-37; and banking, 168-69; Council 
of Directors, 24; development aid, 168; 
Free French, 24, 236; French Mandate, 
xx, 18, 20-26, 52, 69, 70, 236-37; and 
judicial system, xvi, 280; military aid, 
267; and partitioning of Syria, 20-21, 
23, 24, 173; police force, 277 

Franco-Turkish Agreement of Ankara 
(1921), 24 

Franjiyah, Sulayman, 248 

Franjiyah, Tony, 249 

Franklin-Bouillon Agreement, 24 

Free French, 24; armed forces, 236 

Gaza Strip, 239, 241 

General Command of the Army and 

Armed Forces, 32 
General Directorate of Civil Aviation, 177 
General Federation of Trade Unions, 72, 


General Syrian Congress (July 1919), 19 

geography, xiii, 53-58; deserts, 58; east- 
ern plateau region, 56; mountain 
ranges, 54-56; semiarid steppe zone, 
57; waterways, 56-57 

German Democratic Republic (East Ger- 
many), 162, 268 

Al Ghab, 55, 57, 133 

Ghassanids, 8 

Al Ghutah, 95 

Al Ghutah Oasis, 56-57 

Golan Heights, 42, 46, 47, 217, 221, 222, 
233, 234, 247, 250; foreign policy, 220; 
June 1967 War, 240; October 1973 
War, 241-42; United States support, 

government {see also Baath (Arab Socialist 
Resurrection) Party), civil bureaucracy; 
judicial system; People's Council; presi- 
dent, xvi; administrative divisions, xvi; 
Arabization, 64; cabinet, 34, 190-91; 
corruption and bribery, 43, 44, 110, 
126, 197; Council of Ministers, 190-91; 
and the economy, 115-18; historical 
developments, 17, 21, 23, 25; local 
administration, 192-94; military rule, 
27-28; organization and staffing, 34, 
117; portfolios, 190-91; prime minister, 
34; provincial administration, 193-94 

Great Umayyad Mosque, 14 

Greater Syria, xix, xx, 3-9; Byzantine 
heritage of, 9; chief cities of, 4; com- 
mercial network in, 5; Roman rule of, 8 

Greece, 4, 8 

guerrilla forces. See terrorism 

Habash, George, 213 
Habib, Philip, 244 
Hadid, Marwan, 256 
hadith, 93 

Hadrian, Emperor, 8 

Hafiz, Amin al, xxii, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 

Hakim, 97 

Hakim, Abu Ali Mansur al, 12 
Halab Province {see also Aleppo), 192; 
non-Arab settlements, 62; population, 


Halabi, Muhammad Ali al, 44 
Hamad, 56 

Hamah, 8, 26, 41, 44, 95; 1982 destruc- 
tion, xx, 46 

Hamah Province, 86, 192 

Hamdanid Dynasty, 12 

Hammami, Khalid, 204 

Hanafi school of law, 92, 93 

Hanbali school of law, 92 

Hannanu, Ibrahim, 22, 23 

Harir, Shaykh Ismail, 21 

Al Hasakah Province, 58, 60, 192 

Hashimi, Taha al, 238 

Hashimites, 18-19, 236 

Hassan, Ibrahim, 258 

Hassana, 78 

Hatay. See Iskenderun 

Hatum, Salim, 38 

Hawran Plateau, 8, 56 

Hawrani, Akram, 30, 34, 36, 197, 198 

Haydar, Ali, 208, 209, 210 

Haydar, Muhammad, 210 

Hayy al Akrad (Quarter of the Kurds), 66 

Hayy al Arman (Quarter of the Armeni- 
ans), 67 

Hayy al Yahud (Quarter of the Jews), 70 

health, xiv, 54, 104-05, 112; budget, 104; 
diseases, xiv, 104; expenditures, 276; 
personnel, xiv, 105; preventive pro- 
grams, 105 

Hejaz, 19, 236 

Hejaz Railway, 18 

High Judicial Council, 192 

Higher Institute for Social Work, 103 



Higher Political Institute, 204 
Hims Province, 192 - 
Hinnawi, Sami al, 27, 28 
Hittites, 6 

Horns, xv, 26, 28, 41, 86, 140, 151 
Horns Desert, 56 
Horns Gap, 54 
hospitals, 27, 104 

housing, 125; budget, 127; construction, 
179-80; public, 54; rural-urban migra- 
tion, 75 

Husayn, Sharif, 18-19 

Ibrahim, Hikmat, 211-12, 269 

Idlib Province, 192 

Imadi, Muhammad, 160, 213-14 

Imamate, 93, 94 

Imamis, 86 

immigration: Armenians, 24; Assyrians, 
8; historic, 8; of persecuted groups, 24 

imports, xv, 119, 161-62; Arab states, 162; 
construction materials, 161; Decree Law 
356, 160; exchange rates, 160; foods, xv, 

127- 28, 141, 144, 145, 161; government 
policy, 161-62; growth, 161; illegal, 160, 
161; Japan, 162; machinery and equip- 
ment, xv, 161; materials for processing, 
xv ; metal products, xv; oil, xv; tobacco, 
143; wheat, 141 

income, 146; agricultural, 136; inequali- 
ties, 115; redistribution, 118 

independence, 18, 19-20, 22, 23-26; 
1946, xix, 4; 1919-20, 20 

Industrial Bank, 169, 170 

industry {see also crude oil and petroleum; 
energy), xiv-xv, 127, 146-56; budget, 
124, 125, 128-29; cement, xv; chemi- 
cals, xiiii; commodity shortages, 110, 
119; construction, 1 11-12, 153, 178- 
80; cottage, 72; development policy, 

156- 60; expansion, 110-11; extraction, 
153; financial sector {see banks and 
banking); food production, xv, 145, 
157; gross domestic product (GDP), 
xiv, 112, 146; growth rate, xiv, 146, 

157- 58; manufacturing, xiv, 111-12, 
1 16, 127, 128, 128-29, 146-47, 159; 
mining, xv, 111, 112, 120, 127, 

128- 29, 152; nationalization, 31, 71, 
109, 111, 156-57; phosphates, xv, 112, 
152; public sector inefficiencies, 

157-58; service sector, 128; steel, 125; 
textiles, xv, 1 10, 142 
insurance, 115 

internal security. See public order and 

internal security 
International Bank for Reconstruction 

and Development (IBRD). See World 


International Center for Agricultural 
Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), 

International Fund for Agricultural 

Development, 141 
International Institute for Strategic 

Studies, 241 
International Monetary Fund (IMF), 

149, 168 

International Telecomunications Satellite 
Organization (INTELSAT), 178 

Iran, xv, 11-12, 46; historical relation- 
ship, 11; oil agreement, 149-50, 166; 
support of, 233; Syrian arms support, 
251; terrorist training camps, 273 

Iran-Iraq War, xxii, xxiii, 46, 185, 224, 

Iraq, xxiii, 20, 28, 39, 132, 139, 233, 236; 
British influence, 19; Euphrates River 
rights, 250-51; oil transportation, xxii, 
251; terrorism, 251; and Yazidis, 101 

irrigation, 53, 56, 110, 111, 125, 127, 
129, 130, 135, 145; aqueducts, 57; 
budget, 124, 127; Jazirah region, 56, 
57; potential, 131; problems, 132-33; 
projects, 131-33 passim, 135; under- 
ground water reservoirs, 57 

Iskenderun, 193, 217 

Islam {see also religion), 9-10, 41, 52; basic 
tenets of, 87-88; expansion, 91; fac- 
tions, 90-91; five pillars of, 88; law, 
92-93; and public prayer, 89; tradi- 
tions, 4; unification of religion and 
law, 4 

Islamic Front, 46 

Islamic Liberation Movement, 44, 256 
Islamic Liberation Party, 44, 256 
Ismailis, 95-96 

Israel {see also Arab-Israeli conflict; Golan 
Heights; June 1967 War; October 1973 
War), 3, 245; Arab resistance to, 234; 
armistice agreement, 1949, 238, 239; 
independence, 27; invasion of Lebanon 
(1982), xxi, 243; Israel Defense Forces 
(IDF), xxi; Operation "Peace for 


Syria: A Country Study 

Galilee," 243; relationship with, xxiii, 
4, 46, 186; goal of strategic parity with, 
233, 234; Syrian-Egyptian war, 41-42; 
Syrian-Israeli hostilities, 237-47; 
Tawafiq raid, 239; territorial changes, 
xx ; withdrawal from Lebanon, 245 

Istiqlal (Independence) Party, 22 

Italy, 133, 143, 163 

Jabal Abd al Aziz, 66 
Jabal Abu Rujmayn, 56 
Jabal al Arab (see also Jabal Druze), 56, 
86, 97 

Jabal an Nusayriyah, 54-55, 86 
Jabal ar Ruwaq, 56 
Jabal az Zawiyah, 55 
Jabal Bishri, 56 

Jabal Druze (see also Jabal al Arab), 17, 

23, 24; separatist movements, 24 
Jabal Siman, 66, 86 
Jabal Sinjar, 100 

Jadid, Salah al, xxii, 33, 34, 36, 37, 38, 

40, 255 
Jallud, Abdul Salam, 213 
Jamal Pasha, 18 
Jamil, Naji, 44, 210 
Al Jamiyyah al Arabiyah al Fatat (The 

Young Arab Society), 18, 22 
Japan, 133, 162 
Jarabulus, 66 

Jazirah, 56, 57, 62, 68, 100; non-Arab 

settlement, 62 
Jethro, 98 

Jews, xiv, 62, 69-70, 85, 100; govern- 
ment attitude to, 100; restricted emigra- 
tion, 69 

Jibril, Ahmad, 272" 

jihad, 12 

Jordan, xxiii, 3, 39, 101, 220; civil war 
1970, 39, 241; foreign policy, 223; and 
Iraq, 252; June 1967 War, 240; rela- 
tionship with, 42, 252 

Jordan River, 239 

judicial system (see also sharia), xxiv, 
191-92; amnesties, 280-81; civil codes, 
93; courts, 93, 192, 278-80 passim; 
criminal procedures, 278-79, 280; 
French influence, xxiv, 280; High Con- 
stitutional Court, 192; historical devel- 
opments, 11, 17; and human rights, 
280; incidence of crime, 278; Islamic 
law, xxiv, 92-93; martial law, xxiv, 

279-81 ; Ottoman law, xxiv; penalties, 
280; political prisoners, 280-81; State 
of Emergency Law, 1963, 279-81 

Jumayyil, Bashir, 244 

Jumblatt, Walid, 213 

Jundallah (Soldiers of God), 44, 256 

Jundi, Khalid al, 38 

June 1967 War, xxiii, 38, 233; economic 
effects, 124, 164; equipment losses, 
240; Soviet involvement, 246; Syrian 
air force involvement, 240 

Kabir ash Shamali River, 133 
Kanaan,,Ghazi, 208, 271 
Karachuk, 147 
Al Karak, 14 

Kassim, Abd ar Rauf al, 190, 206, 207 
Kaukji, Fawzi al, 238 
Khabur River, 56, 57, 69, 131, 133 
Khaddam, Abd al Halim, 188, 206, 209, 

211, 212 
Khalifa, Muhammad al, 270 
Khatib, Ahmad al, 40 
Khawli, Muhammad, 44, 208, 271, 272 
Khulayfawi, Abdul Rahman, 40-41, 43 
Khuri, Faris al, 21 
King Abdullah, 237, 252 
King Hussein, 39, 223 
Kingdom of Syria, 7-8 
Krak des Chevaliers, 14 
Al Kufah, 10 

Kurds, xx, 17, 24, 66-67; religion, 66; 

and tribal loyalty, 67 
Al Kutlah al Wataniyah. See National Bloc 
Kuwait, 133, 165 

Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Devel- 
opment, 167 

labor force, xiv, 112-15, 128, 130; agri- 
cultural, 112; artisans, 72; employment 
abroad, 109, 114, 128, 158; industrial, 
72, 76, 112, 152; manpower shortage, 
276; military requirements, 275-76; 
professionals, 72, 114; public sector, 

113, 114; rural, 77; shortage of skilled 
workers, 109, 114, 127, 158; training, 

114, 158; unionization, 114-15; 
women, 80 

Al Ladhiqiyah Province, xvi, xxi, 21, 23, 
24, 27, 86, 95, 96, 192, 210 



Lake Assad (Buhayrat al Assad), 56, 132, 
154, 251 

Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), 237, 239 

land reform, 30, 32, 35, 71, 71-72, 76, 
111, 115, 129, 135-37, 199; Agricul- 
tural Relations Law, 135-36; Decree 
Law 88 (1963), 136; and land use, 17, 
134-35; laws, 135-36, 137; redistribu- 
tion, 136-37; tenancy rights, 135-36 

language, xiv; ancient, 6, 7; Arabic, xiv, 
11, 19, 62, 65, 218; Aramaic, 7; Arme- 
nian, xiv, 62, 68; English, xiv, 63; 
French, xiv, 21, 62-63; Kirmanji, 66; 
Kurdish, xiv, 62, 100; regional differ- 
ences, 65; Syriac, xiv, 62, 69; Turkic, 
xiv, 62, 68 

Latakia {see also Al Ladhiqiyah Province), 
21, 23, 27, 58 

Lawrence, T.E., 19, 236 

League of Arab States.'^ Arab League 

League of Nations, 18, 21, 22, 24, 69 

Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction 
(LARF), 273-74 

Lebanon, xxii, 3, 15, 16, 39, 139, 209, 
220; ceasefires, 248; civil war, 42, 
247-49; economic relationship with, 28; 
French influence, 19; independent 
republic, 22; and Israel, 185, 234, 243, 
244-45; and Israeli-Syrian confronta- 
tions, xxi, 185; and national security, 
233; peace-keeping mission in, 233; 
relationship with, 222-23, 247-48; 
Syrian intervention, 1976, 248-50; 
Syrian troop deployment, 233; Tri- 
partite Accord, 222-23 

Lebanon War (1982), 233; and As Saiqa, 
270; Saudi Arabian involvement, 246- 
47; Syrian casualties, 244, 245 

Levant Company, 16 

Levantine Forces (Troupes du Levant), 

Levantine Special Forces (Troupes Spe- 

ciales du Levant), 24, 25, 236 
Libya, 166, 267 
literacy, xiv, 53, 103 
livestock, 143-45; cooperatives, 144, 145 

Mahmud II, 17 
Majala, Haza al, 252 
Makhluf, Adnan, 208, 209, 270 
Makhus, Ibrahim, 38 

Maliki school of law, 92 
Malki, Adnan, 198 
Mamluk rule, 14 

martial law, 28; State of Emergency Law 

provisions, 279; trial 
procedures, 280 
Martyrs' Day, 18 

Mashariqa, Zuhayr, 189, 206, 209, 212 

Mecca, 9 

Medina, 10 

Mediterranean Sea, 3 

Meskanah, 133 

Mesopotamia, 10, 19, 90 

Military Academy, 236, 261-62 

military aid, 46, 257, 266-68; Arab, 233; 
Czechoslovakia, 242; Eastern Europe, 
266, 267; France, 268; Soviet Union, 

Military Committee. See Baath (Arab 
Socialist Resurrection) Party 

millet, 85 

mining, xv, 111, 112, 120, 127, 128-29, 

Ministries of: Agriculture and Agrarian 
Reform, 139; Defense, 271-72, 341; 
Education, 101, 103, 105; Electricity, 
1 53-56 passim; Finance, 118, 119, 126; 
Health, 104; Higher Education, 101, 
102; Industry, 157; Information, 215; 
Interior, 45, 277; Social Affairs and 
Labor, 103, 105 

minority groups {see also Alawis; Chris- 
tianity; Circassians; Druzes; Jews; 
Kurds; Turkomans), 52, 53; education, 
53; in government, 52-53; and the mili- 
tary, 71; non-Muslims, 85; segregation, 

Misaris, 95 

monetary policy. See banks and banking 

Monophysites, 98-99 

Mount Hermon (Jabal ash Shaykh), 55- 

56, 242 
Mount Lebanon, 16, 20 
Mount Qasiyun, 210 
Muawiyah, Yazid ibn, xix, 10-11, 90-91, 


Muhammad, Prophet, xix, 4, 9, 85, 87- 

91 passim 
Muhammad's Youth, 44 
Muhradah, 154 
Muhsin, Majid, 270 
Muhsin, Zuhair, 270 
mukhtar, 77, 79-80 


Syria: A Country Study 

Multinational Force, 244, 245 
Murad, Yusuf, 255 
Murtada, 205 

Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Musli- 
min), xx-xxi, 44, 45-46, 213, 223, 252, 
253, 256; amnesty, 256; insurrections, 
209, 256; 1982 uprising, 271; organi- 
zations of the, 256 

Muslim empires, 9-14 

Muslims (see also Islam; Shias (Shiites); 
Sunnis), 87-91; caliphates, 90-91; 
duties, 88; ethical code, 90; law and 
legal codes, 1 1 , 85 

Mustafians, 95 

mutah, 94 

Nabataeans, 8 

Nabi Yunis, 54 

Nasir, Nasir ad Din, 212 

Nasser, Gamal Abdul, 20, 30, 35, 198, 


Nasserites, 31-33 passim, 198 

Nassif, Muayyin, 211, 269 

National Alliance for the Liberation of 
Syria, 46 

National Assembly, 32 

National Bloc (Al Kutlah al Wataniyah), 
22, 24, 25, 195 

National Command. See Baath (Arab 
Socialist Resurrection) Party, National 

National Council of the Revolution 
(NCR), 33, 34,; and martial law, 279 

National Council of the Revolutionary 
Command. See National Council of the 

National Democratic Gathering, 44 

National Party, 195, 197, 198 

National Progressive Front (NPF), xvi, 
200-01, 204, 254; incorporation of non- 
Baathist parties, 186 

national security (see also armed forces; 
opposition groups; public order and 
internal security), xvi-xvii, 233-81; 
doctrine, 234-35; historical back- 
ground, 235-36; intelligence network, 
271-72; internal threats, 234; and Iraq, 
250-51, 344; and Israel, 233, 237-47; 
and Jordan, 252-53; and Lebanon, 
247-50; and Palestinian concerns, 251; 
special armed forces, 269-71; and ter- 
rorism, 271-74; and Turkey, 253-54 

National Security Council, 271 
National Security Directorate, xvii, 277 
nationalism, 18, 19, 20, 21, 52, 53, 63, 

196, 216-18; and religious minorities, 


natural gas, 56, 128, 148-49, 152 
natural resources (see also crude oil and 
petroleum; natural gas), 147-53; devel- 
opment policy, 157; foreign exploration 
and development, 147-49, 151, 152, 

Naval Academy, 262 

navy, xvi; equipment, xvii, 259; histori- 
cal development, 11, 237; manpower, 
259; training, 262; uniforms and rank 
insignia, 264 

Nayrab Air Base, 262 

Near Eastern Hellenism, 8 

Nebuchadnezzar, 7 

newspapers and magazines, 210, 215, 255 

Nimah, Daniel, 204 

1973 War. See October 1973 War 

1967 War. See June 1967 War 

Nur ad Din, 12 

Nusayris. See Alawis 

October 1973 War, 41-42, 233, 241-42; 
economic effects, 125, 151, 164; Egyp- 
tian involvement, 241-42; Jordanian 
support, 252; manpower and equip- 
ment casualties, 242-43; Soviet in- 
volvement, 266; territorial gains, 247 

opposition groups (see also Muslim 
Brotherood (Ikhwan al Muslimin)), xx, 
10, 18, 26, 254-57; during 1978- 85, 
44; Base Organization, 255; ommunist, 
255; Communist Party Political Bureau 
(CPPB), 254-55; Party for Communist 
Action (PCA), 255; religious and eth- 
nic, 255-57; Syrian Communist Party 
(SCP), 197, 204-05, 254; 23 February 
Movement, 255-56; Union for Com- 
munist Struggle, 255 

Organization for Economic Cooperation 
and Development (OECD), 165 

Organization of Petroleum Exporting 
Countries (OPEC), 161 

Orontes River, 55 

Ottoman Empire, 14-18, 70; administra- 
tion, 15-16; armed forces, 235-36; 
reforms, 17; and religious communi- 
ties, 85, 95, 96 



Ottoman Turks, xx, 238 
Oxus River, 4 

Palestine, 19 

Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), 248, 

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), 
xxi, 18, 220, 270; hostilities, 251; Israeli 
confrontations, 241; Syrian support for, 
39, 240-41 
Palestine National Council, 213 
Palestine National Salvation Front, 224, 

Palmyra {see also Tadmur), 8 
parliament {see also government), xvi, 52 
Party for Communist Action (PCA), 255 
Party of God (Hizballah), 250 
pashas, 14-15 

peasant farmers. See fellahin 

Peasants' Federation, 203, 204 

penal codes, 27 

People's Army, 203 

People's Council, xxiv, 153, 188, 200, 

214; duties and functions, 188, 189, 

191; elections, 41, 43, 191; Syrian 

Communist Party membership, 204 
People's Organizations Bureau, 203, 210 
People's Party, 195, 197; formation, 21; 

under the United Arab Republic, 198 
Permanent Constitution of March 13, 

1973, xxiv, 41, 200; amendments, 188; 

provisions and principles, 187-94 
Persian Empire, xix, 7 
Phoenicia Prima, 8 
Phoenicia Secunda, 8 
Phoenicians, xix, 6-7 
pilgrimages, 87; to Mecca, 15, 89; Shia 

shrine, 95 
Poland, 267 

police, xvii, 276-78; Gendarmerie, 277 
political development {see also opposition 
groups), xxiv, 25, 30-31, 185-86, 215; 
anti-Western sentiment, 29, 237; cor- 
ruption, 238-39; independence, xix, 4, 
18, 19-20, 22, 23-26; left-wing ele- 
ments, 29-30; and the military, 36, 
194, 197, 239, 274, 275; multiparty 
political system, 200; pan-Arabism, 
237; political goals and objectives, 
216-18, 234; political parties, xxiv, 28, 
29, 30, 195-205 {see also under names of 
parties); post-1982, 209-14; power elite, 

205-09; presidential republic, 28; sov- 
ereign state recognition, 25 

Popular Credit Bank, 169 

Popular Front for the Liberation of Pales- 
tine, 213, 251, 272 

population, xiii, 16, 53, 58-61; by age 
and sex, 58, 59; density, 60; growth 
rate, xiii, xiv, 58, 59, 146; settlement 
patterns, 60; vital statistics, 60-61 

ports and shipping, xv, 10, 242, 277 

postal system, 1 1 

Presidency Council, 34 

president, xvi, 187, 188; authority and 
power, 190; election of, 188 

Prince Faysal, 18, 19, 20, 236 

Progressive National Front, 41 

public order and internal security {see also 
coups; national security), 52, 197, 1 98— 
99; antiregime opposition groups, 254- 
57; under French rule, 19, 21-24, 26, 
236; 1982 uprising of Muslim rebels, 
185; 1949 rioting, 239; 1947 rioting, 
237; 1961-70, 31-33 passim; organiza- 
tions for, 276-78; post-independence, 
26; religious and ethnic rivalries, 255; 
during United Arab Republic period, 

Public Telecommunications Establish- 
ment, 178 

Qadi, Isam al, 270 
Qarah Shuk, 147 
Qasim, Mulhim, 21 
Qudsi, Nazim al, 31, 32, 198 
Al Qunaytirah, 242, 243 
Al Qunaytirah Province, 58, 68, 192 
Quran, 15, 65, 89, 91, 93, 101; compila- 
tion of, 10 
Quraysh, 91 

Quwatly, Shukri al, 25, 27 

railroads, xv, 16, 18, 177; funding, 177 
rainfall, 55, 57-58 passim, 130-31, 140, 

Rajjuh, Yassin, 210, 215 
Ramadan, 89 

Ramadan War. See October 1973 War 
Ar Raqqah (town), 56, 60 
Ar Raqqah Province, 133, 193 
Real Estate Bank, 169 
referendums, 28, 41, 189, 213 


Syria: A Country Study 

Regional Command (See Baath (Arab 
Socialist Resurrection) Party, Regional 

religion (see also Alawis; Christianity; 
Druzes; Islam; Ismailis; Muslims: 
Shias (Shiites); Sunnis), xiv, 84-101; 
almsgiving, 89; crimes against, 278; 
folk beliefs, 51; geographical distribu- 
tion of minorities, 86; historical devel- 
opment, 4, 15; and legal status, 85; 
membership, 85-86; millet, 85; pagan 
symbols, 101; unorthodox beliefs, 86- 
87; as way of life, 51, 84-85, 90 

Republican Guard, 270 

Revolutionary Youth Organization, 203 

roads, 27, 173, 176 

Roman rule, xix, 4, 8 

Romania, 167, 268; irrigation assistance, 
133; military aid, 267 

Rumaylan, 152 

Ruwala, 78 

Saadeh, Antun. 197 
Sadat, Anwar, 247 
Safi, Ibrahim, 208 

As Saiqa (The Thunderbolt) (see also 
Palestine Liberation Organization 
(PLO)), 39; military actions, 248, 
270-71; origins, 240-41, 270 

Saladin (Salah ad Din al Ayyubi), xix, 12, 
14, 95 

Salamiyah, 95, 96 

Salih, Ali, 208 

Salkhad, 22 

Sarkis, Elias, 248 

Sassanian Empire, 8 

Sati, Ziad, 253 

Saudi Arabia, 133; aid, 165, 166; as 

mediator in Iraq conflict, 251 
Saudi Fund for Development, 167 
Sayf ad Dawlah, 12 
Sayid, Haitham, 208, 271, 272 
Seleucid rule, 7-8 
self-government. See independence 
Seljuk Turks, 12 

Shabab Muhammad (Muhammad's 

Youth), 256 
Shafii school of law, 92, 93 
Shahabandar, Abdul Rahman, 24 
Shakur, Yusuf Bin Raghib, 258 
Shammar al Kharsah, 78 
Shammar az Zur, 78 

Sharaa, Faruq. 210 

sharia. 90. 93; and divorce, 83 

Sharm ash Shaykh, 239 

Sharon. Ariel, 244 

Shaykh Adi, 101 

Shias (Shiites) (see also Ismailis), xiv, xxiv, 
11. 12, 93-95; origins. 91; and politics, 
95; religious practices, 93-95 

Shiat Ali, 10. 91 

Shihabi, Hikmat. 206, 212, 258 

shipping and ports, 27, 111, 173, 176-77 

Shishakli. Adib, 28 

Sibai, Umar, 255 

Sidon, 20 

Silu, Fawzi, 28 

Simeon Stylites. 9 

Sinai Peninsula, 29, 239. 241 

Sinn River, 57 

social welfare, 54. 105, 112 

Socialist Union Movement, 41 

society (see also beduin nomads; family: 
urbanization, and names of ethnic groups), 
xiii-xiv, 51-105: Arabization, 64. 115: 
attitude toward foreign ideologies, 218- 
19; attitude toward government. 63. 
215-16; attitude toward politics, 214- 
15. 274-76; contributions to civiliza- 
tion, 6-7, 8; cultural differences, 62, 
73-74; discrete systems of organization, 
72-74; elite groups, 70-71; entrepre- 
neurs, 71; and ethnocentrism, 216; 
French cultural influence. 23; heteroge- 
neity, 63-64, 68; Islamic-Arab tradi- 
tion, 64, 99; marriage and divorce, 98; 
middle class, 196; minorities, 52, 53; 
non-Muslims, 52; relationships be- 
tween the sexes, 83-84; residential 
segregation by class. 75; residential 
segregation by religion, 62, 74-75, 86, 
92; rural, 52, 54, 109; social stratifica- 
tion, 52, 70-80 passim; towns, social 
structure, 74-76; tribal structure, 78- 
80; upward mobility, 71, 72, 76, 103. 
275; urban, 73; villages, social struc- 
ture, 76-78; Western influence, 23. 73 

South Lebanon Army (SLA), 245 

Soviet Union, xv, 25, 143; Baath region- 
alists, 35; financial assistance, 167; as 
importer, 163; irrigation assistance, 
131, 133; military equipment, 185, 
227, 228, 233, 243, 257; military rela- 
tionship, 228, 266-68: military train- 
ing, 267; nuclear cooperation, 228; 



nuclear energy assistance, 155; rela- 
tionship, xxiii, 29, 41, 42, 46, 227-29, 
234-35; Treaty of Friendship and 
Cooperation, 46, 163, 227, 235, 267 
Spain, 143, 163 

Special Forces. See national security 
standard of living, 53-54, 72, 114, 118, 

141, 146; rural peasants, 71 
State Planning Organization (SPO), 118, 


Statute of 1861, 16 
strikes, 23, 28 

Struggle Companies (Saraya as Sira), 205 

Sublime Porte, 14, 15, 16 

Suez Cabal, 241 

Sufi, Jamal, 41 

Suhayl, Suhayl, 210 

Sultan Sulayman I, 16 

Sunnis (see also Muslim Brotherhood (Ikh- 
wan al Muslimin)), xiv, xx, 10, 11, 26, 
51, 62, 91, 92-93; festivals, 92; mem- 
bership, 92; nobility, 70; opposition to 
Assad regime, 41, 44; terrorism, 45 

Supreme Allied Council, 20 

Supreme Planning Council, 126 

As Suwaydah (town), 22 

As Suwaydah Province, 58, 59, 141, 193 

Suwaydani, Ahmad, 38 

Suwaydiyah, 147, 154 

Sykes-Picot Agreement, 19, 20, 27 

Syria Prima, 8 

Syria Secunda, 8 

Syrian Air Force, 240 

Syrian Arab Airlines (SAA), 177, 271 

Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), 215 

Syrian Arab Socialist Union, 41 

Syrian Communist Party (SCP), 29, 41, 
197, 204-05, 254; Committee for Soli- 
darity with African and Asian Nations, 
204; organizational structure, 204 

Syrian Company for Oil and Transport, 

Syrian-French Treaty of Alliance (1936), 
23, 24 

Syrian General Petroleum Company 

(SGPC), 147, 157 
Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), 

197, 198, 217 
Syrian University, 19 

Tabaqah, 131 

Tabaqah Dam. See Euphrates Dam 

Tadmur, 153 

At Tali'a al Muqatila (Fighting Van- 
guard), 44, 256 
Tall az Zatar, 271 
Tall Mardikh, 5 
Tall Tamir, 69 

Tapline (Trans-Arabian Pipeline), 27, 

laqiyah, 94-95 

Tartus, xv, 147, 193; population, 60 

Taurus Mountains, 66 

taxation system, 126; business taxes, 120- 
21; historical developments, 8, 17; 
indirect, 121; industry exemptions, 116, 
156; land tax, 8; personal taxes, 120 

Tayara, Mustafa, 258 

telecommunications, xvi, 74, 178; and 
ARABSAT, 178; budget, 124, 127, 
128; and Intersputnik network, 178; 
and INTELSAT, 178; radio and tele- 
vision, 178, 215 

Temple of Jupiter, 9 

terrorism, 32, 47, 168, 208, 214, 273; 
activities, 273-74; American sanctions, 
226-27; sponsorship of, 235, 268, 271- 
74; by Sunnis, 45; training, xxiii, 272; 
against Turkey, 253-54 

Thawra Dam. See Euphrates Dam 

Thayim oil field, 149 

Theodosius, 9 

Tishrin Dam, 133 

Tishrin power plant, 155, 156, 167 

Tishrin University, 103 

Tlas, Mustafa, 40, 206, 210, 227-28, 257 

tourism, 95, 116, 160 

trade (see also balance of payments; 
exports; imports), xv, 161-63; Arab 
states, xv; black market, 171-72; 
deficit, 161, 164, 166; early history, 4- 
5,8, 11; Eastern Europe, xv; exchange 
arrangements, 163; historical develop- 
ments, 16; Iran, xv; major partners, 
163; public sector, 161; Soviet Union, 
xv; Western Europe, xv, 162 

Transcaucasia, 67 

Transjordan, 20, 236, 237, 252; British 

influence, 19 
Transjordan Arab Legion, 24 
transportation, xv, 74, 76, 111, 173-78; 

budget, 124, 127, 128 
Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation 

(1980), 46, 163, 227, 235, 267 
tribes. See beduin nomads 


A Country Study 

Tripoli, 20 

Troupes Speciales du Levant (Levantine 
Special Forces), 25, 26, 236 

Turk, Riad at, 254-55 

Turkey, 132, 139, 217; border problems, 
253; historical relationship, 253 

Turkomans, 17, 68; religion, 68 

23 February Movement, 255-56 

Tyre, 8, 20 

Ubayd, Hamad, 34 
ulama, 70, 71 
Umar, 10, 90 

Umayyad Empire, xix, 4, 10-11, 91, 95, 


Umran, Muhammad, 34, 35, 37, 255 
Unified Military Command, 239 
Union for Communist Struggle, 255 
Union of Students, 203 
unions, 114-15; agricultural laborers, 136 
Unit 569. See Defense Companies (Saraya 
ad Difa) 

United Arab Republic (UAR), 30-31, 
115, 194, 198, 239; economic effects, 

United Nations Development Program, 

United Nations Disengagement Observer 
Force (UNDOF), 243 

United Nations Emergency Force 
(UNEF), 239 

United Nations (UN), 167; charter mem- 
ber, 26; 1948 truce, 238; 1947 decla- 
ration, 237; 1946 resolution, 26; 1973 
cease-fire, 242; Security Council Reso- 
lution 242,. 220-21, 225; Security 
Council Resolution 338, 220-21 

United States, 225-27; aid programs, 
167, 168, 268; diplomatic relations, 
168; military clashes, 226; relationship, 

United States Agency for International 
Development (AID), 168 

United States Department of Agriculture 

(USDA), 140 
University of Aleppo, 103 
University of Damascus, 102-03 
Uqlah, Adnan, 256 

urbanization, 74-76; and family life, 84; 
and food cultivation, 141; housing, 75; 
and lower class, 76; middle-class emer- 
gence, 75-76; residential patterns, 74 

Uthman, 10, 14, 90 

Vanguards, 203 
"the velvet generation", 71 
Versailles Peace Conference (1919), 

Walid, Khalid ibn al, 10 

water supply. Sudanis; irrigation; rainfall 

Widan ar Rabih. See Tishrin power plant 

Wilson, Woodrow, 19-20 

women: and the armed forces, 260; mor- 
tality rate, 58; in politics, 214; and 
religion, 86-87, 88-89, 98; status, 94; 
suffrage, 27, 28 

Women's Organization, 203 

World Bank, 110, 112, 124, 133, 141, 
166, 167 

World War I, 18, 70, 235 

World War II, 24-26, 109, 110 

Yarmuk River, 57 

Yazidis, 66, 86, 100-01; religious beliefs, 

Yom Kippur War. See October 1973 War 

Az Zabadani, 153 

Zaim, Husni az, 27, 197, 239 

Zangi, 12 

Zaynab, Sitt az, 95 

Zuayyin, Yusuf, 35, 37, 38, 255 

Zubi, Mahmud az, 206 



























































550-33 Commonwealth Caribbean, 
Islands of the 

550-91 Congo 

550-90 Costa Rica 

550-152 Cuba 

550-22 Cyprus 

550-158 Czechoslovakia 

550-52 Ecuador 

550-43 Egypt 

550-150 El Salvador 

550-28 Ethiopia 

550-167 Finland 

550-155 Germany, East 

550-173 Germany, Fed. Rep. of 

550-153 Ghana 

550-87 Greece 

550-78 Guatemala 

Published Country Studies 
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Indian Ocean 


















Ivory Coast 












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550-185 Persian Gulf States 
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